Malice is a legal term that describes an intent, expressed or implied, to do harm to another individual or to a group of individuals. In many legal systems and for many kinds of crimes, an individual cannot be convicted of some crimes unless malice can be demonstrated. The intent to do injury, for example, must be demonstrated if one is to be convicted of such crimes as assault, battery, or murder. As it is impossible to read minds, it can be difficult to effectively prove that an individual intended to do harm. As such, judgment on the issue can often be relatively subjective and is based on existing evidence and witness reports.
The term expressed malice describes a stated intent to do harm; the intention to do harm is clear, deliberate, and expressed. Implied malice describes situations in which there is no explicit statement of intent to do harm, but in which the intent to do harm is apparent. This is much more subjective as there is no expressed intent to injure anyone; such intent must be inferred from evidence after the fact. One of the two forms of malice must be demonstrated for individuals to be convicted of some crimes.
In many legal systems, such as the English legal system, malice describes not only the intent to do harm but also a reckless disregard for the harm that one's actions could cause. If one recognizes that his actions can cause harm but acts anyway, his disregard can, legally speaking, be considered the same as intent to cause harm. It is also important to note that the amount of harm an individual believes his actions can cause does not matter. If an action that an individual believes will only cause a small amount of harm actually causes a great deal of harm, malice can still be demonstrated because the the individual acted with the understanding that his actions would cause harm.
Malice does not only apply to violent crimes. In the United States, for example, the case that established guidelines for intent to cause harm actually involved defamation and libel. Intent to harm to an individual's reputation or a person's emotional state also can fall under the malice category. The Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan began to establish standards regarding recklessness and malicious intent. Even then, however, there were concerns about the inherently subjective nature of most forms of maliciousness.