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The Continued Relevance of the Irrelevance-of-Motive Maxim

Michael T. Rosenberg
Duke Law Journal
Vol. 57, No. 4 (Feb., 2008), pp. 1143-1177
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40040615
Page Count: 35
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The Continued Relevance of the Irrelevance-of-Motive Maxim
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Abstract

The irrelevance-of-motive maxim--the longstanding principle that a defendant's motives are irrelevant to criminal liability--has come under attack. Critics of this maxim claim that "motives," under any plausible conception of the term, are in fact relevant in the criminal law. According to these critics, the only way to defend the truth of the irrelevance-of-motive maxim is to render it true by definition, by defining motive as the subcategory of intentions that are irrelevant to criminal liability. This Note defends the irrelevance-of-motive maxim by applying a plausible conception of "motive" that conforms to the historical meaning of the term. With the proper definition in place, the irrelevance-of-motive maxim can be understood as stating a valid principle of criminal law, defied only by the advent of a certain kind of bias crime legislation.

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