This article is written by Prabha Dabral from IMS Unison University, Dehradun. The article talks about the concept of common intention. It focuses on the elements and punishment for acts committed under the influence of common intention.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
The general principle of criminal liability says that the person who commits a criminal act will solely be responsible for that. And will be punished accordingly. But what happens when more than one person is involved in a single criminal act? Who among the individuals is to be punished for that?
If there arises a situation where a criminal act is done with the contribution of several persons, it becomes difficult to determine which of them is to be held liable for such an act. To deal with this, there is a provision of common intention mentioned under Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. It helps in determining the accountability of each individual so that they are awarded the punishment for which they are liable for.
What is Section 34 IPC
Section 34 deals with the criminal act done by several persons with a common intention. The term “common intention” suggests that there is a shared intent or mindset among the people accused of the criminal act.
The Section states that when two or more persons commit a criminal act with a common intention, then each of them is liable for that act. It is considered as if the criminal act was performed by all of them individually. It is a general provision that is applied in situations where it is challenging to determine the precise degree of responsibility of each person involved. In a way, Section 34 aids in determining the individual accountability of persons involved in the same criminal act.
This Section is also applicable when there is a prior engagement of two or more persons in the commission of a crime. And if any of the persons commit an act against the law, then every person engaged in the act is liable.
Here is an illustration for understanding the provision better. There are 4 persons who share a common intent to beat ‘X’ after he leaves his workplace. All of them arrive at the location when a fifth person, ‘Y,’ passing through them decides to join them to beat ‘X’. They executed the plan. Here, the said provision will be applicable.
The Section is also applicable even when the person so involved has not himself committed the offence. Here is another illustration to help understand the concept. Suppose ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ decide to rob a bank without hurting any individual present there. As per their plan, ‘B’ and ‘C’ were supposed to collect the cash, while ‘A’ had to get the door for keeping the check at the police. While collecting cash, the guard came at ‘A’, and out of fear, ‘A’ stabbed him.
In this case, all the essentials of Section 34 are satisfied. Hence, all three of them will be liable for robbing the bank and for the murder of the security guard. Although ‘B’ and ‘C’ were not actively involved in the murder, they are still guilty because the act committed by them was in furtherance of their common intention. Hence, they are all jointly liable for the murder.
Essentials of Section 34 IPC
Section 34 has some essentials that need to be fulfilled to hold a person guilty of such an offence. They are as follows:
A criminal act done by two or more people
It is the most important ingredient in this section. A criminal act is an act or omission forbidden by law that may be punished by the state. There must have been a criminal act done, and that, too, by more than one person. The acts committed by each individual might be different. But it must be done in a way that involves participating in the execution of the criminal offence. In other words, the act must be done with the simultaneous consensus of the minds of the people participating in the act to bring about the intended result. A minimum of two persons are required for the applicability of this section.
Participation of all the persons involved
It is essential that the act is done in furtherance of the common intention with the participation of all the involved persons. Each person should have done an act to facilitate the commission of the planned criminal act. In other words, there must be the participation of all the persons in some way for the commission of the offence.
The presence of a person somewhere near the spot of the crime is sufficient to prove his participation if the act is done as per the common intention. The case of Ramaswami Ayyangar & Ors. v. the State of Tamil Nadu depicts this situation. It involved the commission of physical violence. It was held that since physical violence was involved, it is a requirement for the accused to be physically present there while the act was committed. Only then can he be held liable under Section 34, as his presence itself amounts to participation. But it is not right in every case.
In another case, Jasdeep Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that generally, the presence of the accused is a necessary requirement under Section 34. But this is not applicable in all cases. As in some cases, the accused can support the occurrence of the crime even from a distance. Hence, a lack of presence cannot be construed as a lack of participation.
Existence of a shared intention
Common intention can be referred to as a purpose shared by every person involved in a crime. In simple words, the intention of crime becomes common among all people. And the criminal act committed by several people must be done according to the common intention shared among them.
The prior meeting of minds is an essential ingredient in this Section. The act done by each individual might be different in degree and character but the act must be initiated from the same common intention among the persons.
- The act must be committed in furtherance of the common intention
The act must be done in the advancement of the common intention among all the people. The phrase “in furtherance of common intention” is quite vague. It has been interpreted by many courts in different ways over the years. In the case of Mahbub Shah v. Emperor (1945), the Bombay High Court held that common intention refers to a prearranged plan, a prior meeting of minds, and prior consultation between all the persons involved.
The punishment provision
There is nothing mentioned about a separate offence under Section 34. It only lays down the principle of liability, stating that if several persons do something against the law, then all of the persons will be held liable. Hence, the punishment for this section is given according to the punishment provided for the crime under the IPC. Each time a criminal act is committed by two or more persons, both sections are applied, i.e., Section 34 combined with the punishment for the crime committed by the convict.
Section 34 is a rule of evidence. It does not create any explicit offence on its own. Since it defines no explicit offence, it is always read with other substantive sections of the IPC.
For example, ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ commit the offence of murder in furtherance of common intention. In this case, all three of them will be held liable under Section 302 along with Section 34 of the IPC. Here, all three of them will be awarded with the punishment of imprisonment for 10 years and a fine by each of the convicts.
Recent case laws
Here are some of the recent judicial pronouncements regarding Section 34 IPC.
Krishna Master & Ors. v. State of U.P. (2010)
In this case, the petitioner’s son, Amar Singh, had eloped with the respondent’s daughter, Sontara, and left the village. The respondents continuously imposed a threat upon the petitioner to find his son and bring back his daughter. One day Amar Singh was in the village, and the respondents made an attempt to assault him and take revenge. But their attempt failed as Amar Singh fled after getting information about it from his neighbour’s wife, Ramwati. The respondents were highly agitated after learning that it was the petitioner’s neighbour who had given the information to Amar Singh.
When the respondent’s daughter did not come back in spite of his threats to the petitioner, they became restive and uneasy. After 10 to 15 days, the three respondents carrying country-made pistols in their hands, entered the house of the petitioner’s neighbours. They started firing shots and killed six people. Seeing this, the petitioner with his family ran away.
The learned judge of the Trial Court convicted each of the respondents under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the IPC. The Allahabad High Court acquitted the respondents. The petitioner then filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Trial Court. It was held that each of the three respondents was liable under Section 302 IPC read with Section 34 IPC. All of the three respondents were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life along with a fine of Rs 25,000/- each, in default RI for 2 years.
Shyamal Ghosh v. State of West Bengal (2012)
In this case, Archideb Bhattacharjee (deceased) has gone out to visit someone for some business matters. As he was returning home, he was assaulted by the accused persons and restrained from his path. The accused persons murdered Bhattacharjee and severed the head, legs, hands, and body of the corpse to hide the evidence. They put them in gunny bags and threw them at some other place. During the investigation, it was found that the day before the incident, the accused persons had come to Bhattacharjee’s house and demanded Rs 40000/-. They were threatening him to pay the amount for letting the 6 shop rooms on his own land. When he refused to succumb to the illegal demand, the accused kept on threatening him.
The Trial Court charged these eight accused of committing offences under Sections 302, 201, 379, and 411 read with Section 34 of the IPC. The offence was considered to be among the rarest of rare cases. The aggrieved party then filed the petition with the High Court. The Court acquitted the accused persons of the offence under Section 379 IPC. The court awarded them with rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs 5000/- each. For committing an offence under Section 201 IPC, they were awarded rigorous imprisonment of 7 years along with a fine of rupees 5000/- each. Later, the correctness of the judgement of the High Court was challenged by the accused. Hence, this appeal was filed.
The Supreme Court held that the offence was committed with common intention and collective participation. And the various acts were performed by each of the accused persons in the presence of each one of them. The Court dismissed the appeal and the decision of the High Court was upheld.
Ashok Debbarma @ Achak Debbarma v. State of Tripura (2014)
This case talks about a tragic incident. A group of armed extremists burn down 20 houses in a village in Tripura. Those houses belong to a minority community of Bengali settlers. Due to the fire, 15 people lost their lives, and the rest faced extensive damage to property. Out of the 11 accused persons, charges were framed against five of them under Sections 326, 436, and 302 read with Section 34 of IPC. The Trial Court acquitted three of the accused persons under Section 232 of the Code of Criminal procedure(CrPC), 1973. The two accused persons, namely Gandhi Deb Barma and the appellant herein, were held guilty under the said offences. The Additional Sessions judge sentenced the appellant to death on his conviction under Sections 148, 149, 302, 326, 307, and 436 IPC. The sentences passed by the Sessions Judge were sustained by the High Court, which was then challenged through this appeal. Here, the involvement of the appellant in the incident was in question as the name of the appellant was never mentioned in the FIR.
The Supreme Court held that the mere fact that the accused was not mentioned in the FIR cannot be sustained as two of the witnesses have already mentioned his name. The Court observed that the appellant could not have executed the entire crime. The appellant alone could not be solely responsible for all the elements of the crime. The court altered the death sentence to life imprisonment.
State of Rajasthan v. Gurbachan Singh (2022)
The facts of the case are that Gurbachan Singh and others came armed with a lathi, an axe and a gandasi. A person named Teja Singh was beaten up by them and died on the spot. The Trial Court convicted them under Section 302 IPC. Gurbachan Singh then filed an appeal in the High Court. He contended that his conduct should not be inferred under common intention as he was armed with a lathi only and had only struck the feet of the deceased. The Court allowed his appeal.
The Apex Court disagreed with the findings of the High Court. The Court observed that common intention can be formed in the spur of the moment. It was held that Gurbachan Singh along with all accused persons is responsible for the offence of murder. It doesn’t matter what part they played in the commission of the crime.
The order of sentences passed by the Trial Court was restored. They were convicted under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC and punished with life imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 1000/-.
The concept of the commission of crime committed to the furtherance of common intention by several persons is given under Section 34 of the IPC. This is supposed to be involved with other provisions as it cannot be applied independently. It is read with other sections to make all the persons jointly liable for the crime committed. When more than one person is involved in a crime, the role and motivation of each person are determined by the idea of shared culpability.
How is common intention different from the common object?
A common intention under Section 34 IPC does not constitute a distinct crime. It establishes a rule of proof. This section necessitates a prior meeting of the minds. On the other hand, a common object under Section 149 IPC establishes a particular offence. In this offence, prior agreement of minds is not a necessity.
What is the punishment if a person is guilty under Section 34 IPC?
This section is only a rule of evidence. It only gives a broad description about joint accountability. Hence, no penalty has been specified under this section.
Is a prior meeting of minds necessary to be guilty of common intention?
Yes, as per Section 34 IPC, prior meetings of minds is one of the essential ingredients.
- https://lawrato.com/indian-kanoon/ipc/section-34#:~:text=(2)%20Whoever%20is%20a%20party,with%20fine%20or%20with%20both. %5D
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