This article is written by Anis Ahmad.
A crime is an unlawful Act punished by the state or any lawful authority. A crime or an offence is an act which is harmful not only to the person but also to the community, society or state. Such acts are forbidden and punished by law.
Reasons why crimes are committed– Greed, anger, jealousy, revenge, pride are the main reason for committing a crime.
The primary object of criminal law is to maintain the law and order in society and to protect the life and liberty of people.
It is important to think about the question that crime is different from a tort. It is the common-sense approach towards crime, as pointed out by William that there is something in a crime that makes it different from a tort.
To understand the origins of legal code four theories are discussed regarding the origins of legal code. These theories are namely, a civil wrong, social wrong, moral wrong and group conflict theory.
- The civil wrong theory which states that criminal law is originated from torts. According to this theory, firstly the damaged parties claimed compensation to wrongs done to them and later a number of the wrongs came to be adjudged as being deterrent to society at large.
- The social wrong theory established that criminal law emerged as a national process of an integrated society. Thus regulations are made by society to stop the repetition of wrongs. This theory did not explain how legal code developed throughout your time but this theory holds for serious offences like murder, dacoity, etc.
- The moral wrong theory stated that criminal law is the crystallization of morals, traditions and the like. Customs got an ethical foundation that continued over longs periods of your time and its violation came to receive a hostile reaction from the society. Penal laws and punishments were framed against such acts. However, this theory did not explain many economic crimes and other social crimes like evasion but successfully explained conventional crimes against persons and property.
- The group conflict theory in which the rival groups conflicted with each other out of which the criminal law developed. Offences against the state and public at large were not explained by this theory.
Definitions of Crime
- William Blackstone, in his book, Commentaries on the Laws of England, has defined Crime as “an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it.
- Blackstone gave another definition, “a violation of the general public rights and duties thanks to the entire community considered as a community.”
Elements of Crime
The two elements of the crime are mens rea and actus rea aside from these two elements there are two more indispensable elements namely first ‘a person and secondly, “an injury to a human being or society at large.”
- A human being – The first elements which require that the act should be committed by a human being. The human being must be under the legal obligation to act, and capable of being punished. For instance, if an animal caused an injury we hold not the animal liable but its owner liable for such injury.
- Mens rea – In the entire field of criminal law there is no important doctrine than mens rea because there can be no crime without mens rea or evil mind.
There is a well-known maxim “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means that the guilty intention act together constitutes a crime. It comes from the maxim that nobody is often punished during a proceeding of criminal nature unless it is often showed that he had a guilty mind.
For instance – If a surgeon in the course of an operation, which he knew to be dangerous, with the best of his skill and care performs it and yet the death of the patient is caused, he wouldn’t be guilty of committing a criminal offence because he had no mens rea to commit it.
- Intention: Intention is the will of a person which is directed towards an overt act. Intention specifically indicates the mental state of accused i.e. what is going on his mind at the time of the commission of a crime. For instance, If B severs the head of A then the intention is clear that B wanted to kill A.
- Motive: Motive is the ulterior object of the person with which he does an act. Motive implies the motivation i.e. to do or refrain from doing something. For instance, if a person kills another man for stealing his brand new iPhone, then the motive of the person was to get the iPhone.
- Knowledge: An intention to commit an offence may be inferred from knowledge. Eg A wanted to Kill Z. Z was affected by acute Asthma and A knew that Z required his inhaler. A hides Z’s inhaler to kill him. In this case, a had knowledge about the medical condition of Z.
- Recklessness: is the state of mind of a person who foresees the possible conduct of his act but yet fails to keep in mind the danger associated with his act.
- Negligence: is an omission of an act or duty to take care. In legal code, unlike torts, negligence isn’t the idea of liability generally. It is only during a few cases that the IPC fixes criminal liability.
- Actus Reus: To constitute a criminal offence the third element, which we have called actus reus or which Russell1 has termed as “physical event”, is important. Now what is this actus reus? It is a physical result of human conduct. When criminal policy regards such conduct as sufficiently harmful it’s prohibited and therefore the criminal policy provides a sanction or penalty for its commission.
- Injury to Human Being: The fourth element, as we have pointed out above, is an injury to another human being or society at large. This injury to a different person should be illegally caused to a person in body, mind, reputation or property.
To constitute a crime the third element, which we’ve called wrongdoing or which Russell has termed as “physical event”, is necessary. Now, what is this actus reus? It is a physical result of human conduct. When criminal policy regards such conduct as sufficiently harmful it’s prohibited and therefore the criminal policy provides a sanction or penalty for its commission. The wrongdoing could also be defined within the words of Kenny to be “such results of human conduct because the law seeks to stop.” Such human conduct may consist of acts of the commission also as acts of omission. Section 32 of our legal code lays down: “Words which ask acts done extend also to illegal omissions.”
It is, of course, necessary that the act done or omitted to be done must be an act forbidden or commanded by some legislation, otherwise, it’s going to not constitute a criminal offence. Suppose, an executioner hangs condemned prisoner intending to hang him here all the three elements are present, yet he wouldn’t be committing a criminal offence because he is acting under a law enjoining him to act. So also if a surgeon within the course of an operation, which he knew to be dangerous, with the simplest of his skill and care performs it and yet the death of the patient is caused, he wouldn’t be guilty of committing a criminal offence because he had no malice aforethought to commit it.
Types of Actus Reus
ACTION CRIMES – The wrongdoing in action crimes is just an act, the results of which are immaterial. For example, perjury is committed whenever someone makes a press release which they are doing not believe to be true while on oath. Whether or not that statement makes a difference to the trial isn’t as important as to if the offence of perjury has been committed.
RESULT CRIMES – There are many samples of result crimes several which are Manslaughter, Murder, wounding etc. In this sort of crime, many authors argue that it’s not supported conduct but only on results of crime.
CONDUCT CRIMES – The arrangement of offences into ‘conduct crimes’ and ‘result crimes’ may occasionally seem awkward and futile. Nevertheless, it’s always essential to spot the elemental elements of an offence, and use of this classification sometimes highlights key changes between offences.
No Mens Rea without Actus Reus
Often, within the legal code, a criminal offence is committed when there’s a mixture of wrongdoing and malice aforethought (the guilty mind required for every criminal offence). The wrongdoing for every crime must be established. It is not enough that the malice aforethought for the crime was present if the wrongdoing wasn’t committed also.
R v Quick
The defendant, a diabetic was charged with assaulting his victim. The assault occurred whilst the defendant was during a state of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose level thanks to a more than insulin). The court held that the defendant should are acquitted on the bottom of automatism. His unconscious state had been the results of external factors, i.e. the taking of insulin.
Hill v Baxter
The Court of Appeal stated that if D was attacked by a swarm of killer bees while driving, and therefore the bees caused D to lose control of the car and hit a zebra crossing the road, D wouldn’t commit any wrongdoing because their actions weren’t voluntary.
Thabo Meli v R
The defendants had attempted to kill their victim by beating him over the top, then threw what they assumed was a body over a cliff. The victim did die, but from the autumn and exposure, and not from the beating. Thus there was an argument that at the time of the wrongdoing the defendants not had the mens rea.
R v Dytham
A uniformed policeman saw a person who was being kicked to death. He took no steps to intervene and drove away when it had been over. He was convicted of the common law offence of misconduct during a position as he had neglected to act to guard the victim or apprehend the victim.
R v Pittwood
The defendant was employed as a gatekeeper at a railway crossing. One day he went for lunch leaving the gate open so that road traffic could cross the railway line. A hay cart crossing the road was hit by a train. One man was killed, another was seriously injured. Pittwood was convicted of manslaughter supported his failure to hold out his contractual duty to shut the gate when a train approached.
R v White
The defendant put cyanide into a drink for his mother with the intent to murder her. She was found dead shortly afterwards with the glass, three-quarters full, beside her. The medical evidence showed that she had died, not of poison, but coronary failure. The defendant was acquitted of murder and convicted of an effort to murder. Although the consequence which the defendant intended occurred, he didn’t cause it to occur and there was no wrongdoing of murder.
State v. Hira Nand and others
It was held in this case that, for committing an offence u/s 308 IPC, the accused must have a mental element i.e. mens rea either active or passive i.e. intention or knowledge and actus reus i.e. an act being done according to such mens rea . To carry the accused guilty u/s 308 IPC, the court must return a finding that the accused was having requisite intention or knowledge.
Moti Singh v. State of Utter Pradesh
In this case, the supreme court held that the mere fact that the two gunshots injuries were dangerous to life was not sufficient for holding that Gayancharan’s death, which took place after the three weeks after the incident, on the account of the injuries received by him. The court observed that to prove the Gayancharan’s murder, it must be necessary to establish he died on account of the injuries received by him.
Ambalal D Bhutt v. State Of Gujarat
The Supreme Court held that for an offence under section 304A, the mere incontrovertible fact that an accused contravened certain rules or regulations within the doing of an act which causes the death of another does not establish that the death was held because of rash and negligent. It was established in evidence that it was the general practice prevalent in the company of giving one batch no. to different lots manufactured in one day. The practice was in the knowledge of the drugs inspector, who did nothing to prohibit the practice and instead turned the blank eyes to a serious contravention of the drug rules. To hold the accused liable for the contravention of the rule would be to form an effort to somehow find the scapegoat for the death of twelve persons. Accordingly, the conviction of the accused under s 304A was put aside.
In common law, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus wrongdoing and malice aforethought are the 2 most vital element in crime and any court could punish an individual as long as he’s found to perform a certain action with the guilty mind. If the act was performed without a guilty mind then the person wouldn’t be convicted. The coincidence of wrongdoing and malice aforethought is important for the conviction of an accused.
In common law, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For an individual to be convicted, both the target and therefore the subjective test is employed by the Indian courts. Decisions are given both on direct as well as circumstantial evidence. The elements of a crime are the simplest thanks to sentencing an individual because it gives substantive realty of things and therefore the accused and at an equivalent time helps law in not making mistakes or misjudging an individual by pronouncing him guilty only at the stage of preparation or incarcerating an innocent.
- P.S.A. Pillai, Criminal law (Lexis Nexis; 11th edn., 1 January 2012).
- Kevin Jon Heller and Markus D. Dubber, the Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law (Stanford University Press December 2010).
- Kenny, Outlines of Criminal Law (17th Edn.,).
- Raneta Lawson Mack, A Layperson’s Guide to Criminal Law
- George P. Fletcher, Basic Concepts of Criminal Law
- SCC Online Journal, Criminal law: Undermining Free Expression, 2018.
- Law time journal, criminal law in India, 31st August, 2019.
- Indian law Institute Journal, define crimes, 2017.
- Indian law Institute Journal, Elements of Crime, 2018.
- R v Quick  QB 910
- Hill v Baxter  1 QB 277
- Thabo Meli v R  1 W.L.R. 228 (P.C.)
- R v Dytham Q.B. 722
- R v Pittwood  TLR 37
- R v White 2 KB 124
- Harden  1 QB 8
- Lord Diplock in Treacy v DPP  AC 537 at 560
- State V Hira Nand and others AIR 2020 SC 22776
- Moti Singh vs. State of Utter Pradesh AIR 2019 SC 1198
- Ambalal D Bhutt v. State Of Gujarat
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