Motive can be defined as some inner drive, feeling or impulse which causes a person to do something or act in a certain way. It is a willful desire that leads one to act. Motive is important in criminal law as it is the cause that makes a person do a certain action. Understanding the motive behind a crime helps in the understanding of the crime. Motive in itself is not a necessary element of any crime or offense however, by proving motive it is possible to understand the accused’s reasons for committing a crime.
For example motive is important in prosecutions for homicide. Homicides motivated by factors such as sudden heat of passion, provocation etc are lesser offenses than murder which requires that the accused knowingly and voluntarily kill the victim.
Example of a statute in Alabama .
Alabama Criminal Code, Chapter 11 on Offenses against order and safety , § 13A-11-51 states that a defendant being tried under the provisions of Section 13A-11-50 ( carrying concealed weapon) may give evidence that at the time of carrying the weapon concealed, he had good reason to apprehend an attack, which the jury may consider in mitigation of the punishment or in justification of the offense. Here the motive, the purpose of carrying a weapon, must have been defense against violence which has been threatened, or which is reasonably apprehended. However if offense, not defense, is the real purpose or motive, though facts may exist which would justify the carrying the weapon concealed, the statute is violated.[Stroud v. State, 55 Ala. 77, 1876 Ala. LEXIS 627 (1876).]