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In a legal context, motive is the reason a person may have committed a crime. Rather, as defined in the case State v. Willis, motive is “the moving course, the impulse, the desire that induces criminal action on the part of the accused.” A motive can be useful in combination with other evidence to prove that a person committed a crime, especially if the suspected perpetrator denies committing the crime. Motive can be proved by the admission of evidence. For example, in the 1991 Missouri case of State v. Friend, Clarence Friend was convicted of first-degree assault after engaging in a high speed vehicular chase with a police officer, firing a handgun at the officer, and fleeing. A passenger in the defendant’s car claimed the driver’s name was “Donny,” but officers concluded this was false and instead arrested and charged Friend. At trial, Friend denied committing the crime and the passenger refused to testify, invoking the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Among other evidence, the prosecution introduced evidence that Friend had escaped from a halfway house, was involved in the burglary of a liquor store, and had a warrant out for his arrest. This was put forth as proof of Friend’s motive in fleeing from and shooting at the police officer.

Motive is not always necessary to prove a crime, as other evidence may be sufficient. Further, even when there is reasonable motive for why a person would have committed a crime, a motive alone is not sufficient, absent some other evidence as to why a particular defendant is guilty.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]