Introduction of the Crime and its essential elements under IPC India, 1860: In every organized society certain actions on the pain of punishment are prohibited. Where one person injured another and the injury could be compensated with money. The wrong person needs to pay damages or compensation to the injured person.
But in some cases, the state punishes the wrongdoers with the aim of maintaining peace in society and promoting good behavior towards each other and towards the community at large.
Different jurists have defined the word crime as follows: – Whatever is injurious to public welfare is an offence.
According to Stephen “A crime is said to be an act which is prohibited/forbidden by law and against the moral morality of the society”.
Acc. To Kenny “crimes/offences are wrong whose sanction (approval or penalty). Is punitive (Intended as a punishment) and in no way unacceptable by any private person, but permissible by the crown alone, if unacceptable at all.”
essential elements of the crime
The act must have been done by a human being before it can constitute a crime punishable by law. Only a human being is under obligation and capable of being published is subject to criminal law.
Mens rea is an essential ingredient of a criminal offence. “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” is a well-known maxim of criminal law. It means the act does not make a man guilty unless his intention were so”.
From this maxim follows another preposition “Actus me invito actus non est mens actus” which means an act done by me against my will is not my act at all. This means an act in order to be punishable by law must be a voluntary act and at the same time must have been done with a criminal intent.
The various offences defined in the Indian penal code have a guilty intention or knowledge as an essential ingredient. Words like voluntary (under sec.39 of I.P.C), a reason to believe (sec.26 of I.P.C), dishonestly (sec.24 of I.P.C), fraudulently (sec.25 of I.P.C) used in the various provisions of the code incorporate the principle of mens rea.
As stated above, in the absence of a guilty mind, a person is not guilty, yet there are many offences that do not require a guilty mind as a necessary ingredient.
The actus rea represents the physical aspect of the crime. According to Kenng “Actus reus” is such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent.
A human being and an evil intent are not enough to constitute a crime unless it is visible through some voluntary act or omission. Actus reus is such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to intent. In other words- actus reus is the physical result of human conduct. The act done or omitted must be an act forbidden or commanded by some law.
Under the Indian penal code of section 44 “Injury” is defined as: According to sec.44 of IPC, the word injury denotes any harm whatsoever illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation, or property.
Thus, we have seen that there are four elements which constitute a crime. However, there are a few exceptions (someone or something that is not included) to this rule. Sometimes what constitutes an offence, even if the act is not accompanied by a guilty mind.
These are the cases of strict liability, for example, the offence of ‘bigamy’ under section 494 (Bigamy) is a crime even though the act is not accompanied by a guilty mind. Section 399 of the Indian penal code (Making Preparation to Dacoity), sec. 402 of I.P.C. (Assembling for the Purpose of Committing Dacoity), an attempt of abetment or conspiracy are crime, but still, no injury has been caused to any person.
Stages of Crime
In the Indian penal code,1860 intention to commit a crime is not solely punishable, because intention alone cannot constitute a crime. For the completion of a crime the following four stages have to be crossed: –
It’s a first stage of crime. The motive for an act is not a sufficiency test to determine its criminal character. Motive denotes anything that gives birth to any kind of action. An act that is unlawful cannot be excused in law on the ground, that it was committed with a good motive. Though it is not essential to prove motive it may be considered in determining the guilt of the accused. But in the case, where the case is based on circumstantial evidence motive is a relevant factor.
Intention to commit a crime
The second stage of crime is the intention of the wrong-doer. Any act is punishable only if it has been done with mens rea for achieving a particular purpose. Also, such intention must be visible through some over act otherwise sole intention is not punishable.
Motive/Purpose and Intention are not the same thing.
Mere intention to commit a crime without doing any act in furtherance of such intention is not punishable.
Preparation of Crime
The preparation consists in arranging all such means which are necessary for the commission of an offence. Under Indian law generally, preparation to commit a crime is not punishable except in the following four circumstances: –
- Collecting arms etc. With the intention of waging war against the government of India (sec.122 of I.P.C)
- Preparation of committing depredation on territories of power at peace with the government of India (sec. 126 of I.P.C)
- Preparation of making instruments for counterfeiting Indian coins and stamps (sec.233,234,253,256 and 257 of I.P.C)
- Preparation of committing dacoity (section 399 of I.P.C)
Commission of Crime
The fourth stage of the crime is the attempt for its commission. A successful attempt is an actual commission of a crime. It is not essential that every attempt for the commission of crime should be successful. But as it is an attempt towards the commission of a crime, every attempt of crime is punishable under the Indian penal code.
So, preparation and effort are not the same thing. Preparation to commit a crime is different from an attempt to commit it.
Now, let’s look at landmark cases to understand these elements
R v. Prince (1875)
This case highlighted the importance of mens rea. It involved the abduction of a 14-year-old girl who was in the lawful custody of her father. The defendant argued that he believed she was 18 and therefore could not be convicted of the crime. The court held that a mistake of fact is not a defense if the mens rea exists. In this case, the defendant had the intent to take the girl, making him liable for the crime.
R v. Williams (1923)
This case emphasized the concept of actus reus. The defendant was charged with attempting to commit suicide, which was a crime at the time. However, he was found unconscious before he could complete the act. The court held that the actus reus of attempting suicide was incomplete due to his unconsciousness, leading to his acquittal.
State of Maharashtra v. Mayer Hans George (2000)
This case demonstrates the principle of legality. The accused was charged with possessing cocaine. He argued that he didn’t know it was cocaine and, therefore, had no mens rea. The court held that ignorance of the law is not a defense, emphasizing that the act itself (possession of a prohibited substance) was enough to establish guilt.
R v. White (1910)
This case illustrates the concept of causation. The defendant attempted to poison his mother, but she died of a heart attack before the poison could take effect. The court held that causation was not established because the defendant’s act did not cause her death. He was acquitted of murder.
These landmark cases help elucidate the essential elements of a crime under IPC 1860 and the significance of actus reus, mens rea, causation, concurrence, legality, and harm in criminal law. Each case underscores different aspects of these elements, shaping the jurisprudence of criminal law in India and other common law jurisdictions.