Defending You Is Our Job

Does the state have to prove motive in a murder trial?

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Violent Crimes |

Have you ever heard the phrase, “no motive, no crime?” It’s a popular phrase that sums up the idea that a prosecutor can’t prove a homicide case when they can’t establish a motive for the defendant to act.

It’s also untrue. While motive is very important in crime drama shows and movies, establishing motive is not required for a conviction

Does motive even matter?

Motive does still matter. Since juries and jurists are human, there’s a natural tendency to want to understand why someone did whatever they’re accused of doing. 

The prosecutor may try hard to establish a motive in a murder case so that they can help jurors more easily make sense of a defendant’s actions. Similarly, the defense may try equally hard to show that the prosecutor’s motive doesn’t amount to much, and certainly not enough to kill over.

However, any evidence in that area can be given to the jury or judge for consideration when they’re deciding guilt, but motive can never be the sole determining factor in a case. In other words, even if a defendant is the only person who wanted the victim dead, there has to be some evidence tying them to the murder beyond motive. 

By the same token, a lack of motive cannot be equated to “reasonable doubt” in a case and used to establish innocence. People can and do commit violent crimes without any discernible motive – and they are convicted of those offenses all the time.

It is very important to understand the difference between what you see on television and how criminal trials involving murders actually work. If you’re facing allegations of murder at any level, protect yourself by invoking your right to remain silent until you have explored your defense options. 

FindLaw Network