motive


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Motive

An idea, belief, or emotion that impels a person to act in accordance with that state of mind.

Motive is usually used in connection with Criminal Law to explain why a person acted or refused to act in a certain way—for example, to support the prosecution's assertion that the accused committed the crime. If a person accused of murder was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy on the deceased, the prosecution might argue that greed was the motive for the killing.

Proof of motive is not required in a criminal prosecution. In determining the guilt of a criminal defendant, courts are generally not concerned with why the defendant committed the alleged crime, but whether the defendant committed the crime. However, a defendant's motive is important in other stages of a criminal case, such as police investigation and sentencing. Law enforcement personnel often consider potential motives in detecting perpetrators. Judges may consider the motives of a convicted defendant at sentencing and either increase a sentence based on avaricious motives or decrease the sentence if the defendant's motives were honorable—for example, if the accused acted in defense of a family member.

In criminal law, motive is distinct from intent. Criminal intent refers to the mental state of mind possessed by a defendant in committing a crime. With few exceptions the prosecution in a criminal case must prove that the defendant intended to commit the illegal act. The prosecution need not prove the defendant's motive. Nevertheless, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike may make an issue of motive in connection with the case.

For example, if a defendant denies commission of the crime, he may produce evidence showing that he had no motive to commit the crime and argue that the lack of motive supports the proposition that he did not commit the crime. By the same token, the prosecution may produce evidence that the defendant did have the motive to commit the crime and argue that the motive supports the proposition that the defendant committed the crime. Proof of motive, without more evidence tying a defendant to the alleged crime, is insufficient to support a conviction.

A Hate Crime is one crime that requires proof of a certain motive. Generally, a hate crime is motivated by the defendant's belief regarding a protected status of the victim, such as the victim's religion, sex, disability, customs, or national origin. In states that prosecute hate crimes, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was motivated by animosity toward a protected status of the victim. Hate-crime laws are exceptions to the general rule that proof of motive is not required in a criminal prosecution.

In Civil Law a plaintiff generally need not prove the respondent's motive in acting or failing to act. One notable exception to this general rule is the tort of Malicious Prosecution. In a suit for malicious prosecution, the plaintiff must prove, in part, that the respondent was motivated by malice in subjecting the plaintiff to a civil suit. The same applies for a malicious criminal prosecution.

Further readings

Binder, Guyora. 2002. "The Rhetoric of Motive and Intent." Buffalo Criminal Law Review 6 (fall).

Candeub, Adam. 1994. "Motive Crimes and Other Minds." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 142 (June).

Pillsbury, Samuel H. 1990. "Evil and the Law of Murder." University of California at Davis Law Review 24.

motive

n. in criminal investigation the probable reason a person committed a crime such as jealousy, greed, revenge, or part of a theft. While evidence of a motive may be admissible at trial, proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime.

motive

noun aim, causa, causation, compulsion, design, determination, driving force, end, goal, impelling power, impulse, incentive, inducement, influence, inner drive, inspiration, moving cause, moving power, moving spirit, object, objective, perronal reasons, persuasion, plan, point, proposal, prospect, provocation, purpose, ratio, rationale, reason, reason for action, stimulant, stimulation, stimulus
Associated concepts: corrupt motive, intent
See also: animus, basis, cause, design, desire, determinant, end, ground, impetus, impulse, incentive, intent, moving, origination, point, provocation, purpose, rationale, reason, source, stimulus, target

motive

the moving cause or desire that induces action. A person's motive may answer the question: ‘Why did he do it?’ It may coincide with intention but may differ. The general approach of the law is to ignore motive, however helpful it may be to those who investigate crime.

MOTIVE. The inducement, cause or reason why a thing is done.
     2. When there is such a mistake in the motive, that had the truth been known, the contract would pot have been made, it is generally void., For example, if a man should, after the death of Titius, of which he was ignorant, insure his life, the error of the motive would avoid the contract. Toull. Dr. Civ. Fr. liv. 3, c. 2, art. 1. Or, if Titius should sell to Livius his horse, which both parties supposed to be living at some distance from the place where the contract was made, when in fact, the horse was then dead, the contract would be void. Poth. Vente, n. 4; 2 Kent, Com. 367. When the contract is entered into under circumstances of clear mistake or surprise, it will not be enforced. See the following authorities on this subject. 1 Russ. & M. 527; 1 Ves. jr. 221; 4 Price, 135; 1 Ves. jr. 210; Atkinson on Titl. 144. Vide Cause; Consideration.
     3. The motive of prosecutions is frequently an object of inquiry, particularly when the prosecutor is a witness, and in his case, as that of any other witness, when the motion is ascertained to be bad, as a desire of revenge for a real or supposed injury, the credibility of the witness will be much weakened, though this will not alone render him incompetent. See Evidence; Witness.

References in classic literature ?
If the motive had been robbery, the girl might answer; but there wasn't any girl that would want to take this old man's life for revenge.
In reality Jane did not understand her niece very much better than Miranda; the difference between the sisters was, that while Jane was puzzled, she was also attracted, and when she was quite in the dark for an explanation of some quaint or unusual action she was sympathetic as to its possible motive and believed the best.
It was almost a sufficient motive, not only to make me take off what would be called by pig- drovers the mange, but the skin itself.
But he had fancied her in love with him; that evidently must have been his dependence; and after raving a little about the seeming incongruity of gentle manners and a conceited head, Emma was obliged in common honesty to stop and admit that her own behaviour to him had been so complaisant and obliging, so full of courtesy and attention, as (supposing her real motive unperceived) might warrant a man of ordinary observation and delicacy, like Mr.
Elinor could not deny the truth of this, and she tried to find in it a motive sufficient for their silence.
Lloyd, and from the above reported conference between Bessie and Abbot, I gathered enough of hope to suffice as a motive for wishing to get well: a change seemed near,- -I desired and waited it in silence.
You'll find him not so pliable as you calculate upon: and, though I'm hardly a judge, I think that's the worst motive you've given yet for being the wife of young Linton.
The first part of it referred to Captain Wragge, and entered unreservedly into all necessary explanations relating to the man himself and to the motive which had brought him to Combe-Raven.
You claim to have one plain motive in all you do yourself.
I quite realise that this book is written perhaps only just in time for the motive of these two or three chapters to be appreciated in its ancient piquancy.
Men of this class, whether the favorites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence they possessed; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquillity to personal advantage or personal gratification.
Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.