CC 370 (Motive): Will Lay Jurors Understand the Subtle Difference Between Intent – Which Is an Element of the Charge – and Motive – Which Is Not?
March 14th, 2017

The CSC has suggested that lay jurors will readily understand the subtle distinction between intent – which is an element of many crimes – and motive – which is generally not an element

…[A]lthough malice and certain intents and purposes are elements of the crimes, as the court correctly instructed the jury, motive is not an element. ‘Motive, intent, and malice–contrary to appellant’s assumption–are separate and disparate mental states. The words are not synonyms. Their separate definitions were accurate and appropriate.’ [Citation.] Motive describes the reason a person chooses to commit a crime. The reason, however, is different from a required mental state such as intent or malice.” (People v. Hillhouse (2002) 27 Cal. 4th 469, 503-04.)

However, it is problematic to assume that lay jurors will readily understand that the “reason” a person commits an act is different than his intent which is defined as “the state of a person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object.” (See “We must bear in mind that the audience for these instructions is not a room of law professors deciphering legal abstractions, but a room of lay jurors reading conflicting terms.” (People v. Maurer (1995) 32 Cal. App. 4th 1121, 1127.)

The legal abstraction advanced by the CSC in Hillhouse is simply not something that jurors can be expected to accurately decipher. Often the defendant’s motive and intent are so intertwined that any technical distinction between the two will not likely be seen or understood by the jurors.

For example, although it concluded that the instructions as a whole were not erroneous, People v. Fuentes (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1133, 1139-1140 acknowledged that the “commonsense concept of motive” may create confusion:

Any reason for doing something can rightly be called a motive in common language, including—but not limited to—reasons that stand behind other reasons. For example, we could say that when A shot B, A was motivated by a wish to kill B….”

Accordingly, due to the danger of juror confusion, CC 370 should not be given.

Moreover, CC 370 is argumentative: (1) it is “aimed at specific evidence” which is properly addressed in argument not in the instructions (see People v. Harris (1989) 47 CA3d 1047, 1098, fn. 31); and (2) it serves as unnecessary and improper judicial comment on the evidence by addressing matters which the prosecution does not need to prove. (See FORECITE PG III(B); F 362 Note 6; F 372 Note 6; F 416.3 Inst 4.)

However, even if the CC 370 is given it should be modified to assure that the jurors will not read CC 370 as conflicting with the intent element(s) of the charge. In this regard sample instructions such as the following could be requested:

Alternative a:

Modify CC 370, ¶ 1, sentence 1, to provide as follows:

The people are not required to prove that the defendant had a motive to commit (any of the crimes/the crime) charged other than the intent and mental state elements enumerated in Instruction # _______which specifies what the prosecution is required to prove.

Alternative b:

Add to CC 370 when appropriate:

This instruction is not intended to eliminate or reduce the mental state and intent requirements for the charge of ______________ <insert charge with purposeful conduct requirements, e.g., torture [PC ____]; killing for financial gain [PC _____]; torture murder [PC 189]; premeditated and deliberate murder [PC 189], etc.>.

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