Motive (law)

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For other uses, see Motive (disambiguation).

A motive, in law, especially criminal law, is the cause that moves people to induce a certain action.[1] Motive, in itself, is not an element of any given crime; however, the legal system typically allows motive to be proven in order to make plausible the accused's reasons for committing a crime, at least when those motives may be obscure or hard to identify with. However, a motive is not required to reach a verdict.[2] Motives are also used in other aspects of a specific case, for instance, when police are initially investigating.[3]

The law technically distinguishes between motive and intent. "Intent" in criminal law is synonymous with mens rea, which means no more than the specific mental purpose to perform a deed that is forbidden by a criminal statute, or the reckless disregard of whether the law will be violated.[citation needed] "Motive" describes instead the reasons in the accused's background and station in life that are supposed to have induced the crime. Motives are oftentimes broken down into three categories; biological, social and personal.[4]

Motive is particularly important in prosecutions for homicide. First, murder is so drastic a crime that most people recoil from the thought of its commission; proof of motive explains why the accused did so desperate an act. Even though jurors are required to be non bias, their own motives unconsciously effect their decisions.[5] Jurors also don't decide the sentence, they only have a say in if the defendant is guilty or not.[6]

Moreover, most common law jurisdictions (laws developed by judges)[7] have statutes that provide for degrees of homicide, based in part on the accused's mental state. The lesser offence of voluntary manslaughter, for example, traditionally required that the accused knowingly and voluntarily kill the victim (as in murder); in addition, it must be shown that the killing took place in the "sudden heat of passion," an excess of rage or anger coming from a contemporary provocation, which clouded the accused's judgment. Homicides motivated by such factors are a lesser offense than murder "in cold blood."

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  1. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2005). Blacks Law Dictionary, Abridged Eight Edition. Thomson / West. p. 855. ISBN 0-314-15863-4. 
  2. ^ Law Library - American Law and Legal Information - JRank Articles. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  3. ^ Law Library - American Law and Legal Information - JRank Articles. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  4. ^ Types of Motives: Biological, Social and Personal Motives - See more at: (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  5. ^ Gordon, S. (n.d.). What Jurors Want to Know: Motivating Juror Cognition to Increase Legal Knowledge & Improve Decision-Making. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  6. ^ Sentencing Law FAQ - FindLaw. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Common Law. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2014.