Mens Rea; Intention vs Motive explained

In criminal law elements of a crime are very important. These elements are divided into two primary categories; Mens Rea & Actus Rea, both are equally important in order to be an offence. This basic rule is applicable almost everywhere in the world with some exceptions. It is also important to understand the difference between key aspects of Mens rea like intention and motive.  Let’s have a look to understand what do they actually mean?

Elements of Crime

Mens Rea

Mens Rea is a Latin term that means “Guilty Mind”, it is the intention or knowledge of the wrongdoing that constitutes a crime, we can also call it mental element or psychological element, elements that are intangible. It creates criminal liability for the defendant.

Example: Akid, a pharmacist, provided confidential information to Rabby knowing that Rabby would use that information to kill Shakil. Now, here Akid knew about the crime that is about to take place, that knowledge is and his intention is guilty.

Mens Rea must be understood with its substantive element which is, Intention and Motive [discussed below]

Actus Rea

Actus Rea is a Latin term that means “Guilty Act”, it is the physical element of the crime, which means some physical or actual activities are done which is prohibited by law and element of an offence. Let’s understand it with the previous example:

Example: Akid a pharmacist, provided confidential information to Rabby knowing that Rabby would use that information to kill Shakil. Now, here Akid provided the confidential information to Rabby, this transfer of information is an act and this particular act is Actus Rea or Guilty Act.

Here, both the knowledge and the act together constitute a crime, if one of them were missing there would be no crime by Akid.

Physical element is comparatively easy to identify as often it left its footprint behind, on the other hand, Mental element is comparatively difficult to find as that part is nurtured in the thought of a person but law is always vigilant to address any complicated issue thus there are certain rules regarding Mental element too which help us to identify and short out the Guilty Mind. Two basic aspects of Mental element are Intention and Motive, Let’s have a draw a real-life situation to understand the importance of Mental element and some basic rules to identify the mental element (Mens Rea).


Suppose, you are walking in the road and you noticed A person (X) is running behind another person (Z), then suddenly a shoot in Z’s leg. Here you would say X committed a heinous crime by shooting Z but you come to know that X is an undercover police officer and X is a convicted murderer, now your perception of the fact is changed.

Here, X was complying with his duty by shooting Z to immediately stop him so that he (Z) could be brought to justice.

Now, two questions can be asked:

  1. Why X Shoot Z?
  2. What was his reason to Shoot?

Keep the example and the questions in your mind for further discussion and explanation below.

Intention and motive to a crime

Intention and motive to a crime

Why Mens Rea (Mental Element) is so important?

Considering the situation, you with your general knowledge can under thought X Shoot Z he did not commit any crime because his intention, thought and purpose was good and he is not guilty of any crime. Similarly, many exceptional cases can come before us like self-defence, mild harm to prevent the grievous one etc. On the other hand, one of the basic principles of criminal law is “Presumption of innocence” which means a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. and to prove a person guilty “Mens Rea” must be proved [To get a complete idea please see; Why the presumption of innocence is so important?], therefore, Means Rea is very important to consider before any judgment.

In some exceptional cases, only Mens Rea or Knowledge of an offence is good enough to convict a person.

Now let’s understand the two basic elements of Mens Rea.

  1. Intention
  2. Motive


Intention is the immediate intent of a person before any act, it is the purpose or thought to use a particular way (to do something in a particular way) to get the result as he wanted. Confused? Let me help you, remember the last example and bring the first question of that example.

Why X Shoot Z?

Because “X” as a police officer wanted to stop “Z” (murderer) from running. He Shoot (used this particular way) to stop Z immediately. So, X’s intention was to stop Z.

Hope the point is clear. Now, the question is “What is motive?”


Motive is the reason behind the intention. If you already understood intention you can simply ask the question “what was the reason behind the intention?” In this case, we already know X Shoot Z to stop Z, having the immediate answer we have to ask about the reason behind that.

Why was the reason to stop Z?

And the answer is; “to bring him under justice.”

Both of this element (Intention and Motive) together constitutes Mens Rea. These elements are too similar in general sense but not the same. So a clear distinction must be made between them.

Intention vs. Motive

·         Reason behind the act

·         Immediate though

·         Directly linked to act

·         Narrow and specific thought

·         A particular act for the ultimate goal

·         Reason behind the Intention

·         Not immediate

·         Linked with act via Intention

·         Wider thought

·         The ultimate goal

Basic rules to identify the Mens Rea

In our society, one of the defence after committing a crime is that the act was without any criminal intention or a mere mistake. Therefore, it is important to know some ground rules to support dismissing that claim.

  • Purposefully: whether that act was done purposefully or not?
  • Knowingly: whether that person was aware of the criminal nature of that act or any other part or not?
  • Recklessly: whether he was reckless when performing that act or not?
  • Negligently: whether he was negligent to his work or not?

So, any action must be done following the law and in a proper way.  A person should do his work using his reasonable mind and if he detects anything suspicious he must follow the lead and do a general inquiry as a reasonable person, and inform the authority about that suspicious act/thing or take reasonable care of that thing. He must not be Negligent or Reckless in his work. Otherwise, that person cannot claim that he had no intention or relation to the crime, his omission of doing his work properly is also an element of the crime.

He can not claim that what he has done was done in good faith. because to claim good faith a person must do his work properly and attentively.

Therefore, we can say intention (mental) element is not a good defence as the general public may have thought because if that defence is brought before the court the burden of proof will ship to that claimant and he must prove all these elements and if he fails to do he could be charged for the crime.

Further Study

In first world countries, they have their separate branch of forensic investigation to find out these mental element known as; Forensic Psychology, Know more about Forensic Psychology here: Steps of Forensic Psychology as an integral part of modern legal system | 01

The idea is explained shortly in this Bangla video, [let me know if you prefer an English one]



Help others by sharing

Law Help BD is a platform to share legal knowledge, it is not an alternative to a lawyer. A lawyer needs to research and try various strategy to get the best outcome for his client which can be different than a general explanation of the law. Therefore, it is advised to get an experienced lawyer if there is any specific problem to deal with, you can also hire us or try our legal support offers or just e-mails us at

Rayhanul Islam

Advocate Rayhanul Islam is the founder and Editor in Chief of Law Help BD. He is also a researcher. Critical thinking is his main focus. He is on a quest to bring positive change to the legal sector of Bangladesh. He promotes legal knowledge and human rights concept to the root level. e-mail:

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. legal says:

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning
    this website. I really hope to check out the same high-grade content by
    you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own,
    personal blog now 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *