blog Criminal Defense Understanding Motive During Criminal Proceedings

Understanding Motive During Criminal Proceedings

By Colorado Attorney-at-law on March 10, 2023

Motive is the reason a person decides to commit a crime. Individuals may engage in criminal conduct out of jealousy, revenge, or greed, or for other reasons. Although evidence of motive may be admissible at trial, it is not necessary to prove that a crime was committed. Nevertheless, motive is often considered important in criminal trials because it helps the prosecution prove its case.

What Is the Difference Between Motive and Intent?

Motive is often confused with intent, but they are not the same thing in a criminal case.

  • Intent is defined as a conscious objective or purpose. A person commits a criminal act with intent when his or her purpose is to engage in an act which is prohibited by law or to bring about an unlawful result.
  • Motive is the reason a person chooses to engage in criminal conduct.

Intent is often an element of a crime in which the prosecution must prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Motive is not an element of any crime, and therefore, the prosecution is not required to prove it to get a conviction.

What Are the Legal Standards for Proving a Crime?

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. The crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest legal standard. The evidence against the defendant must be so convincing that no reasonable person would question the defendant’s guilt. This standard requires that the evidence offer no other logical conclusion or explanation than that the defendant committed the crime with which he or she is charged.

Generally, every crime involves three elements:

  • The act (actus reus).
  • The defendant’s mental state at the time of the act (mens rea); and
  • Causation between the act and the effect.

Although prosecutors are not required to prove the motive behind a crime, an experienced trial lawyer may, in effect, suggest adding motive as an element to the prosecution’s burden of proof. This is accomplished by focusing the jury on the lack of motive for the defendant to have committed the crime. For example, if a wealthy person were accused of a theft crime, the defense could argue that the defendant was already wealthy and had no motive to steal. In a weak case in which guilt has not been clearly established by the prosecution, the absence of motive may be persuasive in obtaining a not guilty verdict.

What Are the Potential Problems With Relying on Motive in a Criminal Trial?

Relying on motive in a criminal trial can be problematic. Motive can be difficult to prove. The reason for committing a crime can be difficult to understand and less obvious than who, what, when, where, and how. Motive can also be misleading. For example, a lack of money does not necessarily mean that a person committed a theft crime. Poverty is not permissible evidence to prove the elements of theft. Motive may also be irrelevant. If the prosecution is able to clearly establish guilt, it may not be necessary to establish motive.

Why Is It Important to Present a Strong Defense In a Summit County Criminal Trial?

If you are facing criminal charges, your best chance of obtaining the most favorable outcome is to have a strong defense presented by an experienced Summit County criminal defense attorney. Our seasoned Breckenridge criminal trial lawyers can protect your Constitutional rights and ensure you are innocent until proven guilty. We can conduct a thorough investigation, examine the prosecution’s case against you, and challenge every flaw.

Contact Whitaker & Penix, LLC at (970) 368-0602. We have years of experience advocating for the best possible outcomes on behalf of our clients.

Posted in: Criminal Defense