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In criminal law, the motive is distinct from intent.

The motive is the reason behind a person’s actions. It could be an emotion that spurs on the person to commit the overt act. The motive is not the same as a criminal state of mind, however. The intent is the voluntary decision to commit a specific crime. It involves a mental process, while motive is an emotional state.

It is possible to feel hatred for one’s unfaithful ex-husband and desire to see him dead – this is a motive. But this motive is still distinct from the mind-set whereby the jilted wife decides to kill the unfaithful ex-husband and takes steps to carry out that intent to kill the unfaithful ex-husband. The intent must be present while all the overt acts necessary to produces his death has been done. The presence of motive alone, without any criminal intent, cannot produce a criminal liability.

The difference between motive and criminal intent is made more important when, in a case for murder, the accused succeeds in killing another who was not his intended victim. For instance, in the example above of the unfaithful ex-husband, the jilted ex-wife goes to her ex-husband’s office while he is working overtime. While there, she pulls a gun and shoots him but the husband runs and his clerk who was standing right beside him gets shot instead.

In this example, the woman had the motive to kill her unfaithful ex-husband but had no motive to kill the secretary. The woman had every motive as well as criminal intent to cause the death of her husband. She also took all the steps necessary to produce his death, but the acts resulted in the death of another person.

A crime of murder or manslaughter was still committed as both overt acts, and criminal intent coincided and produced death. The identity of the intended victim is irrelevant here. There is still criminal liability even if the act and the intent produced the death of an unintended victim. It is sufficient for criminal liability to attach that there was malice or evil intended and acts were committed to produce the evil intended even if the evil intended harmed another person who was not the intended victim. 

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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