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Whole notion of criminal law is based upon a fundamental maxim i.e.

'Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea'

i.e. an act does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty intention.

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the act of a person of unsound mind. This section contains two different mental conditions arising from unsoundness of mind which immunes a man from responsibility for his wrongful act namely, that his unsoundness of mind was such that: -

  • He was incapable to know the nature of the act.
  • He did not know that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to the law.

Whenever a person commits a crime because of his insanity, he does not have a guilty mind to perceive that what he is doing is something forbidden by law.

It is important to note that instead of the word ‘insanity’ the framers of the code have opted the expression ‘unsoundness of mind.’ This has been done intentionally. ‘Unsoundness of mind’ has a much wider scope than ‘insanity’. Any kind of mental derangement caused by any reason can be unsoundness of mind but the same may not be insanity always. The law of insanity has proved to be of practical importance in understanding the situation and mental position of insane person and has granted them immunity from criminal liability under certain reasonable circumstances. Insanity as a defense is based upon McNaughton’s rules

  1. Every man is assumed to be sane and to possess a degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary is proved.
  2. An insane person is punishable “if he knows” about the nature of the crime at the time of crime.
  3. To establish a defense of insanity, the accused must prove that due to disease of his mind, he was not in a position to know the nature and consequences.
  4. It is the jury's role to decide whether the defendant was insane.

Burden of Proof

Every person, who is mentally diseased, is not ipso facto exempt from the criminal liability. Section – 84 itself states two terms – wrong and contrary to law. The term 'wrong’ is different from ‘contrary to law’. If anything is ‘wrong’; it is not mandatory, that it would also be ‘Contrary to law’. The legal insanity differs from the medical insanity. It is not every form of insanity or madness that is recognized by law as a sufficient excuse.

A Bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and DK Jain has ruled out that the ‘mentally diseased’ persons and psychopaths cannot seek immunity from criminal proceeding as the burden is on them to prove the insanity at the time of committing the crime. Exemption under section 84 of the IPC will not be available as the burden to prove the insanity would rest with them as provided under Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act.


Madhya Pradesh v Ahmadulla, AIR 1961 SC 998

In this case, the Supreme Court refused to grant an exemption to an epileptic person. As it was clearly inferred from the evidence that the person had the ill-will against the deceased and the crime has been committed in a planned framework. This shows that a person was in sensed at the time of committing of offense.

Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand, (2011) 11 SCC 495

In this case, the Apex Court has stated that under Section 84 of the IPC, legal insanity has to be proved and not the medical insanity. Every person who is suffering from mental illness is not immune from criminal liability. The mere fact that the accused is odd, irascible, the physical and mental ailments from which he suffers has rendered his intellect weak and has provoked him to indulge into certain unusual acts and he is subjected to epileptic fits are not sufficient to attract the exemption under Section 84 of the IPC.

Jai Lal v. Delhi Administration, 1969 SCR (1) 140

In a similar case, the accused had a medical history of insanity which was proved by the evidence in court, But the court convicted him on the basis of his subsequent conduct mainly, his act of concealing the weapon, bolting the door to prevent arrest and absconding thereafter. These acts clearly show the consciousness of the mind.

Sheralli wali Mohammed v. State of Maharashtra, 1972 CrLJ 1523

The Supreme Court stated that the mere fact that no motive has been established why the accused has murdered his wife & had made no attempt to run away when the door was broken open would not indicate that he was insane or that he did not have the necessary guilty mind. Mere abnormality of mind compulsive behaviour of a psychopath affords no protection under Section – 84 of IPC.

Certain questions to be asked to seek immunity under Section - 84

  • Whether there was deliberation and preparation for the act?
  • Whether it was done in a manner which showed a desire to concealment?
  • Whether, after the crime, the offender showed consciousness of guilt, and made efforts to avoid detection?
  • Whether, after his arrest, he made false excuses and false statements?

Preventing Misuse

The greyest area in determining guilt/innocence of an individual in every system of jurisprudence is when it deals with the matter of insanity defense. To prevent the misuse, the apex court has said

  • That the burden of proof will be on the accused.
  • State government is at liberty to rebut the claim with an evidence.
  • Formulation of an expert panel to submit a report.

This defense can be summarised by a legal maxim i.e.

Furiosi Nulla Voluntas Est

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Category Criminal Law, Other Articles by - Vartika Mittal