Being accused of theft, embezzlement, robbery or any property crime is obviously a stressful experience. Many people who have been accused wonder whether their side of the story will matter when they get to court. Do courts care what drives someone to commit theft?

Psychologists pay a lot of attention to motivating factors as they look at crime trends and attempt to determine what is driving them. It’s not just about looking at how the event took place or the eventual outcome. It involves looking at why it happened, what put that person in that position in the first place, and what that tells us about the human condition.

Every case is unique

The first thing to remember is that each case is unique. Everyone has their own reasons for the actions they take. While looking at the general trends is certainly helpful, it does not necessarily mean that every crime falls along the same lines. Each case is its own and dozens or even hundreds of different factors can play a part.

They need it more: Rationalization

When it comes to mounting a defense, motivating factors are only relevant in some cases. One of the biggest things that psychologists note is that people tend to rationalize their behaviors. In many cases, with theft, they honestly believe that there is a justifiable reason to commit the crime. Often, they think that they need whatever the item is more than the other person. Such rationalizations are unlikely to carry the day in court, but again, every case is different.

For example, did you know that baby formula is a frequently stolen item? If you have a limited income — or no income at all — and you are a new parent, it is not hard to convince yourself that it is fine to steal formula for your child. You care about the child more than the legality of what you’re doing or the store owner’s income.

The problem here is that rationalization may make sense to the person committing the crime, but not to anyone else. For instance, it could turn into a situation where someone is thinking “that person has two iPhones, so I’ll just take one because I don’t have one” or something similar. This makes sense in their mind: “It is unfair that they do not have a smartphone while this person has two.” But that does not mean anything in a court of law.

Criminal rights

Of course, rationalizations do not mean the activity is no longer a crime. They just show why it happens. Anyone who has been accused needs to know all of their rights and defense options. It is unlikely that a defense based solely on a rationalization will be effective.