Elements of a Crime under Indian legal system written by Samyukta Menon student of National University of Advanced Legal Studies
The Constitution of India provides for a federal system in which powers are divided between the Central, State, and Local Governments. Article 246 of the Constitution deals with the division of powers between the Union and the States. These powers are classified into three lists of which one is the Concurrent List. Both the Parliament and State Legislatures have the power to make laws concerning matters enumerated in the list. It also takes into account numerous criminal offenses and its procedures under various laws like the Indian Penal Code(IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC).
A crime is an unlawful act punished by the state or any lawful authority empowered by the state. It impacts society as a whole. Hence it is regarded as offenses in rem. Such an act is strictly forbidden and is punished by law. A criminal or offender commits a crime due to various reasons like jealousy, anger, revenge, or greed. Oxford Dictionary defines crime as “An act punishable by law as forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare.”
There are various codified laws in each country describing various crimes and their punishments. In India, we see that IPC and CrPC form the basis of criminal law.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
The Indian Penal Code is one of the vital documents that govern all criminal acts. The offenses and its punishments are stated here. It is considered to be an exhaustive penal code for crime in India. Hence, we can understand that IPC covers all substantive aspect s of criminal law. This code was drafted in 1860 but came into force in early 1862. Even though the code came to its force and has been amended several times. The important thing to be noted here is that the punishments stated under this code can be extended to both the offenses committed within India and abroad, and the offenders by law may be tried within India.
Jammu and Kashmir had a separate criminal code known as Ranbir Penal Code (RPC). It came into force in 1932. The main reason for such a separate code was that the IPC was not applicable under Article 370 of the Constitution which provides this state a separate identity by giving a separate constitution and a state flag. Recently, the Parliament of India passed a bill to scrap provisions of Article 370 which in turn dissolved the Ranbir Penal Code. Henceforth the IPC came into this region.
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974 (CrPC)
The CrPC deals with the procedural aspect of criminal law. This means that the various steps or procedures carried out by the police machinery regarding the investigation will be detailed here. Even the procedures followed by courts during investigation and trial is stated here. This categorizes criminal offenses as bailable, non- bailable, cognizable, and non-cognizable offenses. The various steps at the time of filing a complaint such as filing a First Information Report (FIR), gathering evidence, and initiating an inquiry are all governed by the CrPC. The classification of criminal courts into Magistrates, Sessions Court, High Courts, and Supreme Court and its powers are looked onto in this code.
FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS OF A CRIME
There arises a confusion in one’s mind regarding ‘elements of a crime’ and ‘stages of a crime.’ Let’s focus on the essential ingredients or elements of a crime which is required by the prosecution to prove criminal liability.
a. Human Being- The first and foremost element requires that a wrongful act should be committed by a human being. According to Section 11 of the IPC, a ‘person’ is defined. The word “person” includes any Company or Association or body of person whether incorporated or not. It can be a natural or legal entitlement. A murder is committed by a murderer, theft is committed by a thief, and so on. Hence, we see that it is a legal title having a specific identity and legal rights and obligation under the law.
The basic principle of criminal liability is laid down in the maxim “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means an act does not make one guilty unless there is a guilty mind. Actus reus and mens rea play a very important role in a criminal offense.
b. Mens Rea- Then comes the next important element of a crime which is mens rea. It is a legal word used for criminal intention or a guilty mind. Such an element displays the specific intent for the commission of a crime and having full knowledge of the actions. A criminal can be punished only if it is proven to the court that he or she had a criminal intention. This is one of the fundamental principles of criminal liability. The words used to denote this mental element are ‘intentionally’ (Section 37 IPC), ‘voluntarily’ (Section 39 IPC), ‘knowingly’ (Section 35 IPC), and ‘reason to believe’(Section 16 IPC).
Here is a simple example to understand this concept. A uses B’s pencil by mistake because it looks like the one A had. So he did not ask for consent. In this case, A cannot be charged for stealing because there is no guilty mind or intention to steal. Hence no mens rea. Crimes involving mens rea are of two types.
(1) Basic intent crimes- These general intent crimes only require an offender to have an intention to perform the act. There is no need for additional motive or objective. Taking the case of an assault. It is generally easier to prove because there does not need to be a particular purpose. Other offenses that come under this category are Battery, Manslaughter, and Rape.
(2) Specific intent crimes- This is when someone commits a crime with the intent of doing an unlawful act along with an additional motive or objective. Let’s consider a simple example in this regard. When a person commits theft his main intention is to get money or property from another person without his consent. But there are also additional motives like to permanently deprive the owner of their property. It can happen with other offenses like Conspiracy, Child Molestation, Robbery, and Murder.
Motive and Intentions are words that are often mistaken for each other. They both are very important in the field of law and justice.
The intention is not defined in IPC. It is the conscious exercise of the mental faculties of a person to do an act, for the purpose of accomplishing or satisfying a purpose. Prof. Austin a renowned criminologist, defines motive as the ‘spring of action’ and intention ‘aim of the act, of which motive is the spring’. We all know that motive is the reason for an action. In criminal law, we can say that a person does a crime as he had jealousy, anger, or ambition. These can all be considered as motives. But the interesting fact here is that it does not affect criminal liability. Hence, in criminal law, the motive may be defined as that which leads or tempts the mind to indulge in a criminal act, it lies in the heart of a person. In brief, we can state that motive deals with an individual’s underlying reasons for committing a crime, whereas intent is concerned with their willingness to carry out specific actions related to the offense.
Going through the sections of IPC, we see that in Chapter XVI dealing with offenses affecting the human body, there is a section which deals with Culpable homicide. Both Sections 299 and 300 specifies the intention of causing death or bodily injury as is likely to cause death.
There are two elements of mens rea. The first one being the intention to do the act and then the knowledge of the circumstances. Mens rea consists of different types of mental aptitude. Having Knowledge is being aware of the surroundings. It can be considered in two different ways. If a person does a crime, he will be aware of the act and will have knowledge about the bad consequences that will result from this unlawful act. Both can be understood as a part of Mens rea and are punishable. We can see this as part of mens rea in Section 307 (attempt to murder). Negligence is the lack of attention or due care that a common man may have while performing any task. But if the degree is high, then it shall have criminal liability. this can be regarded as one of the aspects of mens rea.
There are few offenses like Rape, Sale of alcohol, and such substances to minors which does not take into consideration mens rea to impose criminal liability. If he committed such an offense, then he will be guilty of such a crime. Then comes another category of offenses like theft which require a deeper level of mens rea.
c. Actus Reus- It is another fundamental principle of criminal liability. Actus Reus connotes an overt act, the physical result of human conduct. This Latin term is connected with mens rea. It can be a guilty act or illegal omission which must take place in pursuance of the guilty intention. If there is a guilty mind, but no offense committed then he or she will not be liable. This term was first used by Prof. Kenny. According to him, Actus reus is defined as “such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent.” There are mainly two types of Actus Reus:
(1) Commission- It is a criminal activity which was the result of voluntary body movement. This describes an unlawful act is committed which in turn harms a person or property. For instance, act against the human body can include assault, hurt, murder and that against property can include theft, extortion, and dacoity.
(2) Omission- This is an act of criminal negligence. There are cases where omission can become the actus reus of an offense. A simple example is the nurturing of small children. This is a form of duty out of a special relationship. It is an offense if a parent or the guardian of a child under the age of 16 years willfully neglect the child.
Act Should Be Voluntary
Crime is said to be the product of conscious choice and independent will. A voluntary Act is an act done by a person out of his own will. If a person is highly intoxicated, then he will not have control of his own actions. If he drives a car in that state and hits someone which in turn kills him, is not liable as it is an involuntary act. According to Austin, it is only a voluntary act that can amount to an offense. For instance, A shoots at B which in turn results in his death. If this shooting was done by mistake or accident, then it is said to be an involuntary act.
d. Injury- The last important requirement for a crime is that there should be an injury that is inflicted on a person or society at large. Whenever the crimes are committed, the loss to a person(injury) is stated as a public wrong. The term ‘injury’ in criminal law is defined in Section 44 of IPC as “any harm illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property by another person.” It should be brought by the unlawful act done by the offender.
We see that there is a huge increase in the rate of crimes in India. Even though there have been efforts to legislate, punish, or otherwise correct criminal behavior, criminal cases are increasing day by day. The quantum of punishment needs to be looked into and also the speed in which justice is meted out. As for any other country maintaining law and order is important for India also. One of the major strategies practiced for deterring criminals is empowering our police force. If we can analyze the root cause and correct the problems faced by our country and also effectively remove the source of crime, there can be a peaceful environment for people to live in and also to develop satisfying, harmonious relationships with each other.