Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Modus Operandi Definition:

Latin: method of operation.

Sometimes also translated as method of working.

In People v Chambers, Justice Friedman of the California Court of Appeals used these words:

"The notion of modus operandi (refers to) a characteristic method or plan pursued by a defendant in the performance of repeated criminal acts."

Consider, also, these words of Justice Bake of the Supreme Court of Idaho in State v Martin:

"Modus operandi is generally a means of proving the identity of the perpetrator of the crime charged, by demonstrating that the defendant had committed in the past other crimes sharing with the present offense features significantly unique to make it likely that the same person committed the several crimes.

"While it is important that the evidence bear a high degree of similarity in order to show a modus operandi, the circumstances of the prior offenses need not be identical to those of the crime charged."

Again, in Harvey v State (1999):

"Modus operandi refers to a pattern of criminal behavior so distinctive that separate crimes may be recognized as the work of the same wrongdoer. The methodology of the crimes must be both strikingly similar and unique in such a way as to attribute the crime to a single person."

Used by law enforcement officials to refer to a criminal's preferred method of committing crime.

For example, car thief "George" may have a break and enter technique that leaves a long scratch mark on the door. Upon discovery of a stolen vehicle with such a mark, the law enforcement officials might include "George" on the list of suspects because the evidence at the crime scene is consistent with his modus operandi.

Other aspects of a modus operandi include whether a know criminal works at night or with partners.

As a theory of criminology, it is said to have been developed by British detective L. W. Atcherley circa 1880.

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