Criminal law primarily originated in order to protect the residents of the country, their liberty and property, which are of utmost importance. Another reason being to maintain law and order in the society, so that there is no fear of injury. Penal law was established to prohibit undesired and harmful conducts of humans and thereby punishing them, so that they, or any other person, fear to commit that same crime.
It is very well known that the Criminal law is diverse in nature. It is ever-changing. Therefore, there are certain acts which were earlier termed as crimes are n more termed as crimes in today’s world, as those are no more believed to be inimical. The main reason behind this transformation being that science, mainly biology, biotechnology and medicine are ever-changing, which has caused predominant changes in the social and moral changes in the society and thus in the formation of penal laws.
According to Halsbury’s Laws of England, crime is defined as “an unlawful act or default which is an offence against the public and renders the person guilty of the act or default liable to legal punishment”.
Objectives of Crime: Now, to commit a crime, certain objectives must be fulfilled. They are as follows:
- Some sort of external “harm” must be done to the “social interests”.
- The harm that has been committed by the person, must be “prohibited” by the penal law.
- There must be some sort of “conduct” by the person doing the harm.
- “Mens Rea” must be present.
- There must be some sort of “concurrence” of conduct and mens rea.
- A legal “punishment” must be prescribed to all those who commit the wrong.
A very common legal maxim is often found in the beginning of criminal law, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which in common words mean that the penal law does not constitute an act a crime until and unless the mind is also legally termed blameworthy. Therefore, no act can be termed as wrong until and unless both the mind and the act are guilty. Actus reus means a legally blameworthy act and mens rea means a legally blameworthy mind.
But, in order to get away with the penal law, the act must fall within the scope of “General Exceptions”, ranging from Sections 76 to 106, in Chapter IV of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Some of the examples are mistake of fact, accident, insanity, etc., where no traces of mens rea will be found.
Concomitants of a Crime: The concept of actus reus may be with reference to place, fact, time, person, consent, victim’s state of mind, possession or preparation. The descriptions are as follows:
- Place: Place means the area where the crime is bring committed. Eg: House breaking.
- Time: Time means at what part of the day (morning, afternoon, evening, or night) the crime is bring committed.
- Person: Person means at whom the crime is bring committed like a minor girl.
- Consent: Consent means permission.
- State of mind of the victim: This means that those offences relating to religion, or even taking consent of the girl in fear of committing rape.
- Possession: Possession means having the property of another person, which is the actus reus.
- Preparation: Preparation itself constitutes mens rea.
The term “mens rea” means a person possessing with a guilty mind. It is a Latin term. In legal terms, it is the mental state, a subjective element of crime. If mens rea is not present, then the act performed will not constitute a crime, and will fall within the scope of the general exceptions. A criminal act is said to be performed only when the act has been termed as violative of the law. In order to term the act a crime, the mind should also be criminally liable, but not in all cases like, an act of an assailant acting in private defense will not constitute a crime, and thus he will not be charged under the criminal law.
Actus reus is the act that it termed to be guilty and is an element in order to constitute a crime. This is also a Latin term. When the Prosecutor proves the person beyond reasonable doubt, in combination with mens rea, then the person is held liable.
One must remember that automatism will not be considered as blameworthy, as those acts are not performed voluntarily. Some of the examples of automatism include somnambulism, epilepsy, hypnosis, etc.
“Voluntarily” is defined under Section 39 of Indian Penal Code, which thus says “A person is said to cause an effect voluntarily when he causes it by means whereby, he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely cause to it.”
The penal law punishes omissions or a series of omissions as per Section 33 of the Indian Penal Code, 1863. Act of omission means those conducts which are omitted or are not performed, where the person was bound to perform. Eg: Not giving a pill by a doctor intentionally (with a bad motive) which is necessary to the patient.
Intention and Motive: The word “intention” means the main object or the purpose to commit the crime. Synonyms of intention that are used in criminal law include “willfully”, “deliberately”, “deliberate intention”, “with the purpose of”, etc.
Many authors while describing the scope of the words “deliberate intent” have said that it need not be only intent, rather, it can also be pre-planned, or be preconceived, but not a momentarily caused intention.
Many people have been found to confuse between the terms “intention” and “motive” being the same but have two different meanings. In case of motive, there is no such elements of crime. Therefore, a person with a bad motive cannot be held guilty, and also, a person with a good motive cannot be acquitted. The word intention means the direction to which a man moves to complete the objective. Eg; When a man commits a theft, it is an intention. But when he says that he had stolen that loaf of bread to feed his hungry children, then it is a motive.
Criminal law was primarily originated in order to maintain law and order in the country, so that the subjects stay protected. Criminal law mainly protects the lives, limbs and the properties. Penal law was established to prohibit undesired and harmful conducts of humans and thereby punishing them, so that they, or any other person, fear to commit that same crime. Criminal law is never static, rather it is ever changing one, as a crime never remains as a crime throughout. As days pass by, an act which was considered as a crime, later, is believed to be just an act. Mens rea and actus reus are important two elements in order to constitute a crime. Mens rea means a guilty mind and actus reus means a guilty act, and when both are present, then it constitutes a crime, as per a common Latin maxim actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea.
- PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law, 14th edition, KI Vibhute. Lexis Nexis.
(Author: Kinkini Chaudhuri)