Means, motive, opportunity

In the criminal court a large part of a prosecution case is that of establishing that the defendant had the means to commit the crime, some reason for committing the crime, and the opportunity to actually do it. These fundamental criteria establish both necessary conditions as well as a scale for the seriousness of the crime.

Opportunity: was the crime a matter of taking advantage of a situation or was the situation carefully created to facilitate the crime?

Means: was some situation just given a bit of a push over the edge? Was the crime committed with whatever was handy? Or was there careful planning and construction required to carry out the crime?

Motive: Was there an obvious reason for the crime? Was it the result of an emotional outburst? How base is the motivation?

All of these factors work together to convey how important the criminal action was as an assault and afront on civilized society. This, in turn, determines how the criminal is treated by society. It is why there is an insanity defense and why there are degrees for various crimes and why sentencing is complex and subject to judgment.

These factors should also be a part of any rational person’s consideration of allegations and accusations in non-criminal arenas. If someone is accused of some act, it is reasonable to ask why the person would commit that act, whether they really had the means to commit it, and the opportunities they had to get it done.

Consider the idea that some in Congress were mislead and deceived into supporting a war resolution by the President. What reason would the President have for war that Congress would not have? Is this difference significant and appropriate to the scale of action? How does this square with the ‘facts will out’ probability for the longer term?

What was the means the President had to deceive the body whose job was oversight and who had access to the same information? What leverage did he have over those in Congress to sway them to his view? How could he present a case that was not in line with history and the international understanding?

What was the opportunity? How did it differ from previous opportunities? How did the President take advantage of this opportunity to misuse it?

These considerations of means, motivation, and opportunity can be a useful tool in figuring out how seriously to consider the mud slinging that goes on in politics and elsewhere. But to use these considerations it means you need to be informed and you need to think. That takes work. That work is the responsibility of a contributing citizen.

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