2.14 Definition of “Knowingly”

The word “knowingly,” as that term has been used from time to time in these instructions, means that the act was done voluntarily and intentionally and not because of mistake or accident.


In United States v. Tracy, 36 F.3d 187, 194-95 (1st Cir. 1994), the First Circuit acknowledged a split of authority over how to define the term “knowingly.” The Fifth and Eleventh circuits use the instruction stated above, emphasizing the voluntary and intentional nature of the act. Id. at 195. The Sixth, Seventh and Ninth circuits, on the other hand, embrace an instruction to the effect that “‘knowingly’ . . . means that the defendant realized what he was doing and was aware of the nature of his conduct, and did not act through ignorance, mistake or accident.” Id. (quoting Seventh Circuit Instruction 6.04); see also Model Penal Code § 2.02(2)(b)(i).

Although the First Circuit in Tracy approved of the trial court’s “voluntary and intentional” instruction under the circumstances of the case, it did not expressly adopt or reject either definition of “knowingly.” 36 F.3d at 194-95. There may be cases when, given the evidence, the alternative instruction will be more helpful to the jury. But the term “nature” in the alternative instruction might incorrectly suggest to the jury that the actor must realize that the act was wrongful.