How to Determine Whether Multiple Crimes Have Been Committed As Part of a Common Design ?
In State v. Oliver, 133 N.J. 141, 627 A.2d 144, (1993), the New Jersey Supreme Court discussed the distinction between "discrete, albeit similar, acts" and acts which are part of a common plan.
In that case, the prosecution argued that the sexual assaults with which the defendant was charged and the other sexual assaults of which it presented evidence were part of a common plan because the defendant had a single purpose in committing the assaults, namely to have sexual intercourse with the victims whether or not they consented.
The court stated as follows:
"The State's argument confuses having a 'single purpose' binding together several crimes with having the same purpose several times.
The problem is rooted in the ambiguity in the word 'purpose': it can mean a 'goal' or an 'end,' and it can also mean 'intent.'
Defendant might well have had the same purpose, meaning 'intent,' each time he committed sexual assault; but he did not commit each sexual assault to further some overall purpose in the sense of pursuing a single 'goal.'" Oliver, 627 A.2d at 150.
In determining whether multiple crimes have been committed as part of a common design, scheme, or plan, we find it far more sensible to focus on the defendant's state of mind or purpose in committing the offenses than on the factual similarities of the offenses.
Our conclusion in this regard is supported by the fact that similarities between crimes is the focus for determining the admissibility of other-crimes evidence to establish the existence of modus operandi.
In fact, we suspect that confusion between the concepts of common design, scheme, or plan, and modus operandi, a confusion which has been recognized by Illinois courts (see People v. Rose, 198 Ill. App. 3d 1, 6-7, 555 N.E.2d 414, 144 Ill. Dec. 295 (1990)), has led to the line of cases on which the State relies.