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Student Notes on IPC - Crime and Its Elements

WHAT IS CRIME?

• Crime means a charge or offence. When an act is done or not done in accordance with the public law, it is said to be a crime.

• Crime is not just a wrong against an individual but it is a wrong committed against the society at large as it disturbs the peace, and some crimes may cause widespread panic and disruption of normal activities in a community. The society therefore takes steps to prevent it by prescribing specific punishments for each crime, some punishments being death, imprisonment for life, fine or forfeiture of property.

• Crime is a changing concept that depends upon social development of individuals which involves interests and values dominating their common beliefs. Amongst other things, examples of crime include acts like murder, theft and rape.

• The burden of proof of a crime lies with the State and the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. The State acts to protect the victims of the crime and to prevent the offender from committing more crimes in order to provide justice to the victims.

• Further, the State takes measures to punish the offender and encourages their participation in reformation programs in the prison as an attempt to guide the offenders towards becoming law-abiding, dutiful citizens.

 

FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS OF CRIME

There are four elements which go to constitute a crime and these are:

1) Human being

The basic essential element of any crime is that it must be committed by a human being who is under the legal obligation to act in a particular manner, as an animal cannot commit a crime. Animals used to be punished in ancient times, now their owners are made liable.

Section 11 of the Indian Penal Code states that the word ‘person’ includes a company, an association or a body of persons, whether incorporated or not. The word ‘person’ includes artificial or juridical persons.

Illustration: Person A kills Person B – crime

Person A kills animal Z – crime

Person A steals from Person C - crime

2) Mens Rea

Maxim - "actusreus non facitreum nisi mens sit reas" meaning "an act is not guilty unless the mind is not guilty".

Mens Rea refers to the mental element of a person’s intention. The degrees of Mens Rea are:

  1. Intention: Complete knowledge of harm and its consequences.
  2. Knowledge: No intention, but knowledge of an apparent harm.
  3. Reason to Believe: No particular information, but some reason to believe of the consequences of the act.
  4. Recklessness: Higher degree of negligence, aware of consequences.
  5. Negligence: Not aware of consequences.

The Act can be voluntary or involuntary, and the guilt is determined by the facts of the case.Mens Rea as such is not punishable.

The following factors are examined to establish Mens Rea:

  • Previous relation between the accused and the victim, any object of hostility between them.
  • Existence of instigation i.e. whether accused was hired and what prompted him to commit crime.
  • Whether the accused had something to gain out of the whole affair.

Illustration: A person drives under influence and causes an accident which harms others. He will be held responsible for his actions as he voluntarily made a choice to drink and drive, even if the crime itself was unintentional.

Case laws:

o Nathulal vs. State of M.P (AIR 1966 SC 43)

In this case, the accused was a food grain dealer who applied for a licence and deposited the requisite licence fee. Without knowledge of rejection of his application, he purchased food grains and sent returns to the Licencing Authority, who on checking, found that it was in excess of the quantity permitted by Section 7 of MP Food Grains Dealers Licensing Order, 1958. The accused was prosecuted. However, he was acquitted on the ground that he had no guilty mind.

o State of Maharashtra v. MH George (AIR 1965 SC 722)

In this case, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) placed some restrictions on the entry of gold into India, thus superseding an earlier notification. The accused reached Mumbai fromManila, where gold bars were recovered from his jacket. The accused pleaded that he had no Mens Rea and that he had no knowledge of the RBI notification. After considering the object and subject matter of statute, the Court held that there was no scope for the invocation of the doctrine of Mens Rea in this particular case.

o R.S. Joshi vs. Ajit Mills Ltd. (1977 AIR 2279)

In this case, the court held that, "Even here we may reject the notion that a penalty or a punishment cannot be cast in the form of an absolute or no-fault liability but must be preceded by Mens Rea. The classical view that `no Mens Rea, no crime’ has long ago been eroded and several laws in India and abroad, especially regarding economic crimes and departmental penalties, have created severe punishments even where the offences have been defined to exclude Mens Rea."

3) Actus Reus

Maxim - “actusreus non facitreum nisi mens sit reas” meaning “an act is not guilty unless the mind is not guilty”.

Actus Reus is a wrongful act committed or omission of an action.Mens Rea is not necessary in every Actus Reus.

The following factors are examined to establish ifMens Rea was present in an act:

  1.  The physical doing or not doing,
  2. The circumstances, and
  3. The consequences i.e. if the Mens Rea does not extend to any part of the act, there will be no guilty mind behind the act.

Illustration: Person A thinks of killing Person B - not a crime

  • Person A hits Person B using a rod with the intent to kill him - crime (commission)
  • Person A sees his child B drowning in water but does not do anything - crime (omission)

4) Injury

The fourth element of crime is injury occurred to another person or society at large, in the absence of which crime is not considered committed. However, there are some exceptions.

Illustration: Driving without a driving license is a crime even if it may not harm anybody.

According to Section 44 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 the injury denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.

 

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Nicole Gomez 
on 25 September 2020
Published in Criminal Law
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