Is There a Difference Between Intent and Motive?

Although motive and intent are often used interchangeably, they are distinct concepts in criminal law. Motive deals with an individual’s underlying reasons for committing a crime, whereas intent is concerned with their willingness to carry out specific actions related to the offense.

Definition of Motive

Usually, a person’s motive can be determined by looking at various factors leading up to the commission of the crime. For example, if Bill punched Barry, an examination of the facts might reveal that Barry had stolen Bill’s watch, giving Bill a motive for punching him. Although investigators may be able to determine a person’s motive, that does not link them to the crime; the prosecutor does not have to prove the defendant had a reason to engage in criminal behavior. However, a judge or jury may consider motive when hearing the case.

Definition of Intent

Intent refers to a person’s conscious decision to commit an act that violates state or federal laws. Generally, intent is an element of an offense that the prosecutor must prove. For example, in Florida, a person commits battery when they “actually or intentionally touch or strike another person..” or they “intentionally cause bodily harm to another person.” Returning to the example of Bill and Barry, if Bill was waving his hands in the air while telling a story and accidentally hit Barry, his actions were not intentional, and he would not be charged with battery. However, if he purposefully punched Barry, he may be charged.

General v. Specific Intent

Florida recognizes two types of intent: general and specific.

General intent refers to a person’s aim to engage in an act that violated a law. The prosecutor is not required to prove that the defendant meant to cause whatever outcome resulted from their actions. Referring back to Bill and Barry, under the first subsection of the law, just purposefully punching Barry is enough to prove Bill intentionally meant to commit the offense.

Specific intent is defined as a person’s intention to carry out the unlawful act and cause the specific result. Under the second subsection of battery law, if Barry knew he was going to hurt Bill as a result of punching him, that would demonstrate specific intent.

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