Difference Between Motive And Intention


In Criminal Law, the terms Motive and Intention represent two distinct meanings, although they are used interchangeably in some places. Intention and Motive are two distinct states of mind that are connected to our actions.  The intention is one of the essentials of proving someone guilty for an offence and is commonly contrasted with motive, but both the terms are different in the eyes of law.  Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit reais a legal maxim that depicts the essentials to prove someone guilty of an offence. As per this maxim, to prove someone guilty for an offence, there must be guilty intent carried out with the act, otherwise only the act of the convict alone can not hold him liable.

In Criminal Law a crime is only punishable if it is an act done or committed with full intent and preparation. For the same purpose, the Court proceeds to discover the motive of the person, to reach to its ends i.e. the intention. If there is a clear proof of motive for the act committed, it will lend surplus support to the court’s finding, but the absence of motive does not necessarily lead to the contrary.


Motive is that state of mind that prompts a person to develop an intention. The motive in other words is represented as an unexpressed intention. Motive is dealt with as a clue or the underlying cause to the intention. A person’s motive can be inferred by analysing various factors that contributed to the commission of the offence.

Thus the Motives are –

  1. A state of mind that accelerates or gives rise to intention.
  2. An unexpressed intention.
  3. An instigation to gear up the intention.
  4. A clue or the reason or the thought behind the intention.
  5. Not essentially there in a Criminal Case.
  6. Irrelevant to prove someone guilty, but relevant on the question of intention.

Where there is the presence of circumstantial proof, the absence of Motive may result as a favourable condition for the accused, but in case direct evidence is present, the motive becomes immaterial.

Relevance of Motive – Motive becomes relevant at some instances, such as-

1. In the case of “Criminal Attempt”, it is the motive that makes the act wrongful though the act was not itself wrongful.

2. Motive is relevant in the cases where a particular intent forms part of the definition of the offence. In cases of defamation and malicious prosecution, the motive is relevant.

In the case of Tanviben v. State of Gujarat AIR 1997 SC 2193, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that if the evidence of the murder is reliable, the conviction can be made, even if the motive is not established. However, in the cases where circumstantial evidence is present, motive assumes vital importance than in the case where direct evidence is present.

Some other cases, in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court has laid down some important principles regarding “motive”-

Vijender v. State of Delhi (1997) 6 SCC 171The Supreme Court has held that when the links are missing, despite a strong motive, the conviction can not be sustained. The motive in itself is nothing unless the presence of some incriminating circumstances.

State Of U.P. v. Lakhan (1997) 9 SCC 679 The Court held, in this case, is that the motive is something that is locked up in the mind of the accused, and therefore it is to be adjudged from the circumstantial facts of the case. The intention behind the commission is also to be inferred from the same.


Intention means a fixed or premeditated purpose to reach the desired objective. It reflects that the person is actively or consciously planning his conduct so as to achieve the meditated event. In simple words, the intention is the purpose with which an act is done.

Intention is-

  1. A premeditated purpose.
  2. An immediate mental state of a person committing crime.
  3. The conscious planning of an event.
  4. The purpose of committing an act.
  5. A sine qua non of an offence.
  6. One of the two most prominent parameters to hold someone guilty for a crime.

In Jay Prakash v. Delhi Administration, the Court defines Intention as the intention is the conscious state of mind that plans an act to achieve the desired objective.

Under IPC, 1860 there are various offences that need intention to be proved before sentencing for the same. The term has not been concretely defined under this Code, and that may sometimes lead to injustice. For example in the case of trial under Section 299 (Culpable Homicide) of IPC, 1860, if the intention behind causing death or causing such bodily injury is proved then the sentencing will fall under Section 304, Para 1, but if at the same place instead of intention only Knowledge behind causing death or causing such bodily injury is proved then the punishment will fall under Para 2 of Section 304 of IPC, 1860.

The intention is further divided into two different levels-

  1. General Intention- It is the actual purpose of committing an offence but without any premeditated consequences of the act.
  2. Specific Intention- It refers to the person’s state of mind where the person doing the act has premeditated its consequences before executing his act.

Difference between Motive and Intention

Motive Intention
1. A state of mind that accelerates or gives rise to intention. Motive is not in itself essential to the offence but it gives rise or it accelerates one of the essentials of crime, i.e. Intention. 1. An immediate mental state of a person committing crime. There can not be any crime without the evil mind or the guilty intent. Even in the cases of strict liability, some mental elements are required.
2. Motive is the emotional effect of the mind that pushes a mind to take certain actions. But there are instances where several offences were committed without any vital motive. 2. The intention is a premeditated purpose to achieve an event. It is a fixed purpose to reach the desired objective, so it depicts that the person has consciously and actively planned something to achieve that objective.
3. Motive is only relevant in ascertaining the guilt of the accused. 3. If the intention is criminal, the law makes it punishable whether done with or without motive.

Example “X” a person robbed “Y” to purchase liquor for consumption. Here the motive of commission is “to purchase liquor” and its immediate effect will be “intention” i.e. robbing that person.

Discovering the Intention

In Criminal Law, there is an exception or defence for an offence, that was not committed intentionally, but as a result of a mistake. In order to discover the very intent behind the crime and to give justice, there must be some grounds for the same. The parameters on which the intent may be discovered are –

  1. Purposefully- Whether the act was committed with any kind of premeditation or preplanning?
  2. Knowingly- Whether the person was so much aware of the nature and consequences of the act committed?
  3. Recklessly- Whether the act was committed in such a way that it shows that the accused did not care about the danger or the consequences?
  4. Negligently- Whether the act was committed negligently, i.e. without any intention but with knowledge.

Courts Establishing Mens Rea (Guilty Intention)

It is very difficult to portray the mental thinking or thought process of the accused normally, as it is an abstract idea, it becomes difficult to establish the same. To establish the mens rea the Courts may take help of surrounding facts or circumstantial evidence-

  1. The relation between the accused and the victim, i.e any kind of bitterness amongst them.
  2. Instigation, i.e. what prompted him to commit the act (Motive)
  3. Is there any gain to the accused as the consequence of that commission?

Thus, mens rea always is the result of any motive or casual factor behind the act. In order to prove guilty intention, it must extend to all the three parts of the act, i.e.,

  1. The physical doing,
  2. The Circumstances, and
  3. The Consequences

Until and unless the mens rea extends to these three parts, there will be no guilty mind.

Case Laws

1. Nathuni Yadav v. State of Bihar

“A” one person married his daughter, to the appellants. Here, A had only one child, and the appellants had an eye on A’s property. At the time of marriage, he gave some of his wealth to his daughter and gifted the major portion to his own wife. This act of A triggered the appellants and accelerated them to commit murder of A’s wife and to cause some injuries to A.

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that-

The motive behind a criminal act is generally a difficult question to be inferred or to be prosecuted. It is normally not possible to see into the mind of the accused. Motive is the emotion that pushes a person to do a particular act, but there are several instances where the murder was caused without any prominent motive. Though it is sound to propose that every criminal act is done with a motive, it is unsound to state or suggest that no such criminal act can be presumed unless the motive is proved. The Court further stated that Motive is a psychological phenomenon. Merely because failing to translate the mental state of the accused does not mean that no such mental condition existed in the mind of the assailant. The motive for an offence need not to be necessarily proportionately grave to commit the grave offence. Therefore, establishing a sufficient motive for committing the offence is not a prerequisite for conviction.

2. Emperor v. Appajibin Yadav Rao, 1896

Several sweepers were suspended for about a month. An officer was assigned to entertain their issues, and they agreed on an agreement that they’ll be restored to their work if they pay Rs. 300 for the repairing of a temple in the Village. The Court held that despite the fact that the money was funded for the temple, the officer was held liable for accepting illegal gratification. The fact that the money was not given to the officer but was sent to the temple were held irrelevant.

3. Sanjeev v. State of Haryana

The Court held that in the case of murder the element that plays the important role in the picture is the intention behind its commission and not the motive. Only intention or knowledge is to be inferred in the cases of Murder or Culpable Homicide.


Though the intention is mentioned in the Indian Penal Code 1860, but has not been defined in the Code. These terms need to be defined with concrete rules. The reason why the two terms i.e. Motive and Intention are usually confused is that these both are a state or condition of mind that are inferred from the factual circumstances of the case. Here the latter one is the accelerated or triggered version of the former one. The intention is a premeditated or pre-planned purpose behind achieving the desired objective, and the condition of mind that gives rise to the intention is the motive behind that act. In Criminal Law, generally while deciding a case the motive of the person is irrelevant until it is used to infer the intention of that person.

The term Intention despite being one of the essentials of crime has not been defined in any Code concretely. It becomes a vital and most uncertain situation during a trial of the case to find out the mental state of the person, it is not normally possible to get into someone’s mind and discover the motive behind the commission. Without any concrete definition, both the terms are and will be inferred on the basis of the Court’s interpretations in several cases, and that can lead to discrimination or biasness as the interpretations changes from facts to facts in different cases. It is suggested that the term must be described and defined in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for the betterment of the justice system. In order to maintain the consistency of the justice system, the terms must be defined accurately in the statutes. A concrete definition can result in strict interpretation and that is one of the features of the law.


  1. https://mpl-law.com/what-is-the-difference-between-motive-and-intent/
  2. https://www.thewebsterlawoffice.com/blog/2019/june/is-there-a-difference-between-intent-and-motive-/
  3. https://www.estartindia.com/knowledge-hub/blog/intention-and-motive
  4. https://www.legalbites.in/distinguish-between-intention-and-motive/
  5. https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/Revisiting-Intention-and-Motive-in-Criminal-Law.pdf

This article has been written by Ayush Shukla, 3rd Year B.B.A.LLB student at Shri Ramswaroop Memorial University, Lucknow.

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