Created By: DennisDunjinman on February 17, 2013 Last Edited By: DennisDunjinman on October 13, 2013
Troped

Motive Equals Conclusive Evidence (one more)

If you wanted to do it, that means you obviously did it.

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When investigating a mystery or a crime, there are a lot of steps to go through. The crime scene must be investigated to figure out what happened and how it was done, and suspects are identified based on why they want to do this.

Sometimes, the suspect's motive is enough to incriminate them, even if no concrete evidence is presented or it doesn't add up. Quite possibly an Amateur Sleuth might have gone on a wild guessing spree and thought it made sense, but had only jumped to conclusions and ended up making baseless accusations. Their conclusions may have not necessarily been led by Insane Troll Logic, but they forgot the big detail: you need actual concrete clues and other proof before going out and pointing fingers. In fiction, this is not always the case, and one can bypass all methods of proving who the perpetrator was if a given suspect's motive is reason enough.

Often this leads to trouble when the suspect is innocent and protests that their motive isn't proof. A repeat offender may state that it's Not Me This Time. May lead to a Clear My Name. Sometimes a prosecutor knows the suspect is innocent but will use this fallacy to their advantage to frame the suspect. The simple (but not easy) solution to actually bring evidence to light, quite possibly to realize that their accusations were wrong.

Expect this trope to come out a lot as a Red Herring Twist in Police Procedural shows-especially if there was an Asshole Victim. If the victim was really unpopular or even a Complete Monster, this trope could evolve into Everybody Did It, because Everyone Is a Suspect.

In a real legal situation, motive is one of the least important factors regarding prosecution of a guilty party. It's not required that the reason the defendant had committed a crime is known, only if they acted with intent, or knowing what the defendant would have tried to achieve by committing the crime. In fiction, motive is the factor that makes a good cohesive story, which is why this trope is able to persist.

Compare Not Proven, where a lack of evidence allows a guilty party to go free. Conviction by Contradiction, when a flaw in the alibi implicates the suspect, and Conviction by Counterfactual Clue, when the evidence proving guilt is totally wrong in the first place.

Examples

Film
  • 12 Angry Men uses this trope as one of the main thrusts behind the drive to convict the defendant. The defendant had yelled "I'LL KILL YOU!" at the victim shortly before the victim had died, and this was taken as "evidence". Juror #3, the one most adamant for a conviction, argued that no one says something like that unless they truly mean it, and during the course of the film, Juror #8 gets #3 so angry that he lunges at #8, screaming "I'll kill him! I'LL KILL HIM!" before #8, remaining calm and cool, throws this line of reasoning right back in his face: "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"
  • The Fugitive: The fact that Richard Kimble would have gained something from killing his wife (namely, money-even if he was already rich from being one of the best surgeons in Chicago) is one of the many reasons why the Chicago Police Department arrest him and don't give a second thought to continue the investigation. Needless to say, Sam Gerard points out the stupidity of this the first chance he gets. And turns out, she *did* died for money-just not hers. And there's the fact that the "one-armed man" was an ex-Chicago Policeman...
  • In the The Shawshank Redemption, the protagonist landed himself in jail for being suspected of the murder of his wife simply because he told her that he'll see her in hell before he'll see her in Reno. He also got sentenced because his shock at the events going on (and thus lack of experession) had the judge and jury believe he was a "stone-cold killer".
  • Defied in Hoodwinked. Red discusses her side of the story and thinks the Wolf is up to something bad involving a rash of recipe thefts because he's following her around, asking her personal questions, and she thinks that's creepy. Flippers, the police interrogator, tells Red they don't arrest people for being creepy. Wolf believed earlier in the film that Red and her Granny were behind the recipe thefts because their family owns the biggest snack-making company in the forest and therefore had a reason to steal recipes, so he followed Red to investigate. Both Red and Wolf are innocent regarding the thefts and are subsequently released after their alibis are confirmed so the police could identify the real culprit.

Literature
  • Jack Blank has an enemy in the Well-Intentioned Extremist Jonas Smart. Ever since the first invasion of the Rüstov, Smart had sworn to protect the people of the Imagine Nation by implementing a lot of brutal practices, including Sinister Surveillance of the population and perpetuating Fantastic Racism against Mechas, since The Great Collaborator, the one who betrayed the Imagine Nation by opening it up to the Rüstov, was a Mecha named Silico. Jack and his new friend Jazen, also a Mecha, come to the conclusion that Smart had orchestrated the whole Great Collaborator thing and pinned it on Silico to gain emergency wartime powers and keep them secure. When they bring this up to Smart, he's downright disgusted that they believe that of him because he would never even think of siding with the Rustov, and he is quick to point out that they have absolutely no proof supporting their accusations. In short, Jack and Jazen were dead wrong.
  • Exploited during the Summation Gathering in Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced when Inspector Craddock accuses Edmund of committing the murder, solely on the basis that he supposedly was in a position to inherit. Both of them are faking the scene, as a ruse to trap the true killer.
Live-Action TV

Western Animation
  • One episode of Rugrats has Suzie blame Angelica for stealing her brand-new tricycle. Angelica was completely innocent — Suzie's trike was under her porch, Angelica's trike was her own and Angelica's red hands (which Suzie thought was from opening her garage's painted doors) were actually from her finger painting an apology letter.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • An earlier episode in the first season involved one clone attempting to frame another for being a traitor. The framed clone was blamed because he looted the fingers of destroyed battle droids from the battlefield and strung them together to make little bracelets, which was explicitly forbidden. The real traitor was found out immediately after he blamed the other because because he knew that the Jedi were off the base, and no one told him that.
    • Ahsoka Tano is accused this way in the final arc of the fifth season. Ahsoka starts out investigating a crime involving sabotage at the Jedi Temple and starts interrogating potential suspects. Ahsoka is accused of committing the crimes herself even though the evidence is dodgy: while interrogating a witness, the record shows her Force choking the witness when she was only scrambling to help the woman being Force-choked remotely; the audio was suspiciously cut off. Also, Ahsoka is reinforced as guilty when she is found in possession of the same bombs used in the sabotage, when she was actually going to search the warehouse for clues to their actual owner. She quickly grows disillusioned as she protests that she's being framed and her prosecutors are too ready to convict her just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • The Legend of Korra
    • Councilman Tarrlok uses the logic that "the terrorist Equalists are angry non-benders, therefore all these non-benders are Equalists". The crowd he refers to is made up of angry non-benders, but clearly aren't terrorists and non-violently protest Tarrlok's false accusation as unfair. Tarrlok uses their protests to reinforce this trope on them.
    • Unalaq accuses his brother Tonraq of conspiring to assassinate him. The judge states that there was a meeting where plans of a civil war was discussed, the meeting took place at Tonraq's home, and Tonraq is chief, and therefore he must be guilty. However, Korra knows her father is innocent because she was a direct witness to the event and Tonraq was not only absent from the assassination attempt, but had confessed sincerely to Korra that he had no intention of murdering his brother. Unalaq knew all along that Tonraq was innocent and exploited this trope to have his brother found guilty and taken out of his way.
    • Northern Water Tribe members are suspected for bombing the Southern Water Tribe cultural center during a peaceful protest made by Southerners. Mako knows better, witnessing that the perpetrator was a firebender and identifying who he is as well as his affiliation with a bending triad. Other cops on the police force tell Mako to quit because it was clear that the Northerners did it. This poor judgement is portrayed as laziness on their part.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • February 17, 2013
    StarSword
    Compare Not Proven. Part of Artistic License Law, as having a motive for a crime does not automatically mean one committed it, and the law doesn't generally care one way or the other why you committed a crime.
  • February 17, 2013
    Antigone3
  • May 25, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    Not quite that trope. Conviction by Contradiction happens when a suspect is convicted because one fact in the alibi is out of place. This trope is more "You had a reason to have wanted to do it, therefore you did it", without bothering to check an alibi or any clues at all.

    But it's in the same family of poor legal judgement tropes.
  • July 22, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    Psych more or less runs on this trope. The main character is usually hired by the police because of his ability to piece together things when there's little physical evidence (most characters assume/are lead to believe its physic powers). He'll get his suspect, rattle off his list of mostly, if not entirely, circumstantial evidence and usually get a confession out out of the perp. Lampshaded at least once when the police protest they'll actually need more than Shawn's "physic" hunches to move forward in a case. Or when the resident Inspector Lestrade applies this trope and is proven to be dead wrong.

  • July 22, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    I'm reminded of Twelve Angry Men, where this was one of the main thrusts behind the drive to convict the defendant. Apparently, the defendant had yelled "I'LL KILL YOU!" at the victim shortly before the victim had died, and this was taken as "evidence". Juror #3, the one most adamant for a conviction, argued that no one says something like that unless they truly mean it, and during the course of the film, Juror #8 gets #3 so pissed off that he lunges at #8, screaming "I'll kill him! I'LL KILL HIM!" before #8, remaining calm and cool, throws this line of reasoning right back in his face: "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"
  • July 22, 2013
    AgentLetrush
    I can't tell from the description, does this trope require a conviction? If not, then this might be an example. I don't have a copy of the book, and I can't remember what Poirot's proof was, so there may have been better evidence than my description shows. Poirot does admit the murderer can't be convicted due to lack of physical evidence, though.
  • July 22, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    I wouldn't say it requires a formal conviction, but it at least needs a serious accusation.
  • August 3, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    YMMV, but many Police Procedural and Crime Time Soap shows like CSI and CSI Miami and Law And Order use this to toss a Red Herring under the bus (and expect this big time if the dead man is an Asshole Victim). Every person who is interrogated has a very good motive to kill the victim, and in the way to to try to screw said victim over somehow they performed some other crime which they are pleading to *now* to prevent being convicted for murder.

    Ok, maybe we can add to the description "Expect this trope to come out a lot as a Red Herring Twist in Police Procedural shows-especially if there was an Asshole Victim".
  • August 4, 2013
    DAN004
    Does Cassandra Did It related?
  • August 4, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    It doesn't really make sense. It's not that Cassandra wanted to commit any crime, it's that she was the only one who knew something about it.

    What's your judgement call?
  • August 4, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    This is used a lot on all CSI shows, but a possible example could be "Killing Happy". ''Everybody'' wants the titular former boxer dead, and everybody actually tried to kill him... it's their luck (good and bad) which is that Happy was awfully tough. The (rather dark) Running Gag of Brass driving the suspects into hysterics by giving them a speech about their motive, only to be interrupted by a call from Robbins telling him that the suspect didn't killed him (and thus drives down the perfect murderer breakdown Motive Rant scene into a botched attempted murder) is pretty funny.
  • August 4, 2013
    yisfidri
    This trope is exploited during the Summation Gathering in Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced when Inspector Craddock accuses Edmund of committing the murder, solely on the basis that he supposedly was in a position to inherit. Both of them are faking the scene, as a ruse to trap the true killer.
  • September 9, 2013
    nielas
    • Motive inverts this trope since the detectives usually don't discover the motive for the crime till the end of the episode and by that time they have a fair bit of evidence to convict the perpetrator. The show's gimmick is that we know from the start who the killer is but the reasons for the crime are hidden till the very end.
  • September 11, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Would the movie of The Fugitive count here? At the very least, the fact that Richard Kimble would have gained something from killing his wife (namely, money-even if he was already rich from being one of the best surgeons in Chicago) is one of the many reasons why the Chicago Police Department arrest him and don't give a second thought to continue the investigation. Needless to say, Sam Gerard points out the stupidity of this the first chance he gets. And turns out, she *did* died for money-just not hers.
  • September 11, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    ^ It would count. "Oh, he killed her to get the insurance" is a common motive. It fits the trope whether or not the suspect was actually guilty, so long as there's zero concrete evidence that the suspect was actually responsible.
  • September 20, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    OK, then, thanks. Will edit and add to the examples list, then.
  • September 25, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Added "Fugitive" example. We definitely need more of them.

    Anybody here knows if Law And Order or CSI could provide some? There's definitely got to be some.
  • September 25, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    I don't watch enough investigation shows. I really should.

    I think of Scooby Doo as having a formula where at least three suspects to the mystery of the day, and those who weren't Velma would offer the alternative suspects for their motives before Velma would reveal the real one. At least once a suspect was framed, and Velma blamed the other suspect because she reasoned the framing was too obvious.

    This trope could technically apply to The Legend Of Korra, using Tarrlok's logic that "the terrorist Equalists are angry non-benders, therefore all these non-benders are Equalists". They may be angry non-benders, but they're not terrorists, that's for sure.
  • September 25, 2013
    xanderiskander
    ^The Legend Of Korra example is probably a deconstruction. Since it portrays Tarrlok's use of it as wrong, or at least misguided.
  • September 25, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    In the The Shawshank Redemption, the protagonist landed himself in jail for being suspected of the murder of his wife simply because he told her that he'll see her in hell before he'll see her in Reno. He also got sentenced because his shock at the events going on (and thus lack of experession) had the jury believe he was a "Stone-Cold Killer".
  • October 3, 2013
    henke37
    It's easy to waste time arguing about the motive in Ace Attorney games. It's usually treated as either a last straw or as the warmup predicament.
  • October 3, 2013
    Bisected8
    It just occurred to me; shouldn't this be Motive Equals Proof or similar, since a motive can be used as evidence (the point of the trope is that it isn't conclusive evidence)?
  • October 3, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    OK, that's a nice alternate title.
  • October 4, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    I don't see the difference, but if you believe the alternate title has a better semantic, I'm willing to make the change.
  • October 8, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    This has been applied so many times on CSI:Crime Scene Investigation and the Law And Order series (as mentioned above, usually as a Red Herring Twist) that it would be easier to number the times it wasn't used. The suspects flying into a rage or shutting up (usually because a lawyer tells them to) when the motive is brought up (and in typical fashion of these shows, the interrogator is being rather cynical and smart-mouthed about it) doesn't helps them any.
  • October 8, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
  • October 13, 2013
    darthcaliber
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit: there is no actual evidence that Roger murdered Marvin Acme. The only evidence to prove any toon committed the murder is a bit of paint on the rope from the safe dropped on his head and as Eddie points out in the end a lab analysis would prove it matched Doom's paint not Roger's.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=pa9cvjc73cbwes8buiadle2v&trope=MotiveEqualsConclusiveEvidence