The motive and its legal essence…

By Vanessa Vătău

Although in my first article I talked a bit about Forensics, the importance of crime scene investigations, and also about the perfect candidate of any area, in this article I choose to take a step back, to general criminal law, and talk about the felony’s characteristics, especially about:

  • the intent – as a form of guilt;
  • the subjective side of a crime, mainly about the purpose and motive – as important details of the felon.

I choose to speak about the intent and the subjective side of a crime because, in fact, these aspects are closely related to each other and it’s the main interest for the law, justice and people. One of the characteristics of the felony, characteristics that emerge from it’s definition, is the form of guilt with which the crime is committed.

Nowadays, people are more and more free to express themselves, and the most friendly way to make us heard, is the internet. Whether is a blog, an article, status update, creating a poll on Facebook or uploading videos on YouTube, people are not shy when it comes to expressing their thoughts on social media. Haven’t you noticed that every time a social problem came up, people revolted, even through the internet? Which it’s not a bad thing. Speak up, but do not forget the essence!

What makes people angry? The injustice? When someone is falsely accused of committing a felony? When someone is wrongfully convicted? When kids are bullied by their classmates? When the police starts shooting in the middle of the streets for nothing? When people are killed every single day?

And then.. how does the society manifest? Although perfectly normal this repulsion towards those kind of situations and those kind of people, the repulsion itself has to be well proportioned, I might say. When I say this I don’t mean that the collateral victims have to abstain themselves.. I mean that the people who are not parties in a criminal trial have to be a little bit more rational when sharing their own opinions and their own thoughts about a specific criminal case.

What I’m talking about is that feeling which makes people think and believe that „an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a solution. Freely speaking, the majority thought (or felt) that if one does something wrong, one should be punished by having the same thing done to them. This happens since forever. I saw a lot of documentaries based on true events about people who have been wrongfully convicted – those who manifested their repulsion against so-called offenders weren’t missed. Their desire was that those who have done wrong to be punished, or even killed.

So, eventually, what makes people angry? Nobody has the right to kill, no matter the reason, right? And obviously, nobody should wish someone else’s death, especially if they are against it, right?  

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I strongly believe that what really makes people mad, angry, revolted, anxious… is the motive why people commit injustices, and not the injustice itself.

Think about this example: First, we have a serial rapist, who also kills his victims (these cases often implicates killing too, because this action brings satisfaction and excitement for the offender). Awful, right? Then, we have someone, let’s call him Mike, who takes justice into his own hands and thinks that the serial rapist should be killed, the lawsuit being inadequate or it’s purpose won’t be achieved. Not so awful, right?

So, what remains to be done? To take the problem into our own hands? But we were against criminal acts. We do have two people who kill. The important thing is…why? What’s their particular motive?

A very clear separation must be done here between intent, purpose (as in scope) and motive.

What does intent mean? Intent means having will – having the will to do or not to do a certain thing. What is the meaning of having will? Will means having the power to consciously decide, an aspect which will help one achieve his purposes following their efforts. 

Legally speaking, when we talk about intent, the only addition in its definition is the fact that this deliberately behavior is going to be punished if those purposes are achieved for hurting another human being or if the act has an illegal nature.

At large, from a legal point of view, the intent of committing an illegal act means: the perpetrator of a crime predicts the result of his deed and acts accordingly for that result to happen, or if that result wasn’t his main concern, he still knows that it can happen, and accepts this reality, letting it happen.

If we go back to our example where we can apply the definition of intent, it’s understandable the fact that in both situations, the intent to kill does exist.

From a legal point of view, what does it mean to have a purpose? I think about a purpose (scope) as if it were a final result of the intent. If we raise the problem of the purpose into our example, what turns out? The act of murder. Both of them are making the decision that their action should be directed to the purpose of killing.

But now… What’s a motive? A motive is that feeling that sets the intent, the base of a conduct which pushed the man to take such a decision.

You can think of the motive as if it were that powerful sensation which made that first thought being transformed into a reality, a fact, a real action (and that sensation can be one of a passion, hate, desire, lust, wish, tendency). Better, you can look at it as a transition. A motive is the thought of serving a crime „put into words”. And I think the essence should be in here.

Criminalization of the crimes and its punishments are based on the forms of guilt (intent, culpability, praeterintent – lat.) by which the crimes are committed.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, because obviously is an important fact whether the person acted with intent or with culpability when serving a crime. That’s because there are cases where committed crimes are not punished, which is again, a good thing (necessity cases or justified cases) – which makes the motive being a required feature of the killer. Lack of motive or lack of motivation when serving a crime is actually a sign of abnormality of the offender because it makes him being criminally incapable.

I wonder how things would work if the motive will be the foundation when creating the punishments.

Going back to our example, it’s crystal clear that the particular motives are highly different:
The rapist’s motive is the satisfaction of hurting someone when serving that kind of an act, that feeling making him feel the excitement.
Different from Mike’s motive: all he wants is the justice being done, right?

That’s what it’s about. This is what makes people angry – the motive. Because the rapist will remain a rapist, and Mike will be a hero.

I believe that everyone (or most people) will agree with Mike, right?

But what I’m trying to say is…legally speaking, when it comes to intent, purpose and motive – look at them separately – because they are truly different aspects.

And morally speaking, don’t let yourself stolen by the crowd. Don’t forget the essence. Always remain connected to the facts, to reality.


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