A crime is an act which the society looks down upon and shocks the conscience of the public at large. The chief concern of criminal law is to protect and preserve certain fundamental social values and institutions.
Due to this underlying tone, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prescribes a set of norms of human behavior and forbids the human conduct that inexcusably exhibits disrespect or inflicts or threatens substantial harm to individual.
A crime is an act which does not happen automatically. But rather it is an act or omission which passes through a process before it reaches the threshold of being termed as a crime.
The various stages of a crime are as under:-
Now let us examine these stages closely and unpack the fundamental concepts behind them.
The intention is the first and initial stage in the commission of a crime and this stage has not been penalized under the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter referred to as IPC). Actus non facitreum nisi mens sit rea is a latin maxim which translates into ‘an act does not make a defendant guilty without a guilty mind’.
It translates into that ‘an act does not itself become guilty’. Actus Reus is the physical act which a person does and mens rea is the ‘guilty mind’ with which a crime is committed.
It is pertinent to note that an act which is not preceded with an evil intention is not punishable. It is important that Mens rea is present in a particular act, meaning thereby that an act will only be termed as a crime if there is an evil intention to do wrong. The mere act without the evil intention is not punishable.
The liability to conviction of an individual depends not only on his having done some outward acts which the law forbids, but on his having done them in a certain frame of mind or with a certain will. It is the combination of the act and the intent which makes a crime.
The intent and the act both must concur to constitute a crime.
The concept of Mens Rea includes within its ambit intention, knowledge, motive, recklessness and negligence.
- Intention: Intention is the will of a person which is directed towards an overt act. Eg., 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. Eg., 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 suffering from acute Asthma and A knew that Z required his inhaler. A hid 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 criminal law unlike torts, negligence is not the basis of liability in general. It is only in a few cases that the IPC fixes criminal liability.
The second stage is termed as preparation. It is at this stage that the person prepares or does acts which will help him in committing the criminal act. It needs to be kept in mind that the criminal act has not been committed yet and therefore this stage is not punishable.
However there are certain acts which the IPC criminalizes even at the preparation stage. These acts are:-
Waging war against the Government of India (Sec.122)-
- Sec 122. This section criminalizes the acts of a person when he or she is involved in collecting arms and ammunition with an intention to wage a war against the State i.e., the Government of India.
- This act has been punished with an imprisonment upto life or for a term not exceeding ten years. A person found guilty of this offence shall also be liable to pay fine.
Committing depredation on the areas of any country which is at peace with the government of India (Sec. 126);
- Sec 126: This section criminalizes the acts of a person when he or she commits acts such as plundering or attacking any country or nation which is at peace with the Indian State.
- The code has penalized this act with the punishment of imprisonment up to seven years and the person doing such an act shall also be liable for fine.
- The penal provision does not stop there; the punishment also includes the forfeiture of any property that was used during the commission of this offence or was even intended to be used for the commission of this offence.
To commit dacoity (Sec 399).
- Sec 399. Making preparation to commit dacoity: Whoever makes any preparation for committing dacoity, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
An attempt is the direct movement towards the commission of an offence after the preparations has been made. An attempt creates an alarm and the moral guilt of the offender is the same as though he had succeeded.
Criminal law takes notice of attempts to commit punishable wrongs and punishes them according to the nature and gravity of the offence attempted. Although IPC has not defined attempt anywhere in the IPC it has dealt with attempt in various sections such as:
- Sec 511. This section spells out the imprisonment which is to be imposed on an individual if he or she is found attempting to commit an offence.
It needs to be noted that this particular section is a general section. The IPC has included within its ambit, sections which criminalize and offence and also gives the punishment for the attempts in those particular sections or chapters.
But there are certain offences whose punishment is not given specifically by the IPC. This section fills that void and covers up for such offences by prescribing a punishment in sec 511.
The section imposes a punishment of description which is provided for that particular offense and the maximum would be half of the imprisonment for life or half of the longest period of imprisonment which is prescribed for that offence. A person may also be fined for such an attempt.
Sections where the commission and the attempt to commit are dealt with in the same section:
- Sec 196: Using false evidence;
- Sec 197: Using false certificate;
- Sec 213: Obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension;
- Sec 224: Resistance or obstruction to lawful apprehension of another person;
- Sec 239: Delivery if coin as genuine, which when first possessed the deliverer did not know to be counterfeit;
- Sec 250: Delivery of coin possessed with knowledge that it is altered;
- Sec 385: Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion;
- Sec 387: Putting person in fear of death or grievous hurt in order to commit extortion;
- Sec 389: Putting person in fear of accusation of offence in order to commit extortion;
- Sec 391: Dacoity.
In the case of three grave offense, separate specific punishments are prescribed in a separate section:
- Sec 307: Punishes attempt to commit murder;
- Sec 308: Punishes attempt to commit culpable homicide;
- Sec 309: Punishes attempt to commit suicide;
- Sec 393: Punishes attempt to commit robbery.
It is the last stage of the commission of a crime. This is the stage where the offender has crossed all the three initial stages i.e., intention, preparation, and attempt. At this stage, the person completes the actus reus. The act would also include omission.
- Sec 32: Words referring to acts include illegal omissions: In every part of this Code, except where a contrary intention appears from the context, words which refer to acts done extend also to illegal omissions.
- Sec 33: “Act”. “Omission”: The word “act” denotes as well as a series of acts as a single act whereas the word “omission” denotes as well a series of omissions as a single omission.
- Sec 44: “Injury”: The word “injury” denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person, in body, mind, reputation or property.
- In Sagayam v. State of Kerala 2000 4 SCC 454, the Apex court set aside the conviction of the accused who was charged with sections under the IPC and TADA. The prosecution failed to establish that the accused had committed an offence under sec 307 of the IPC and TADA.
- The court while giving its verdict reiterated that there are different stages in a crime. The court clearly spelled out that the first stage is the very intention to commit a crime.
- The first stage is followed by the second stage of preparation and the third stage is the attempt to commit the offence. It was held by the court that if the third stage fails, then the crime is not complete, however the same is punishable under the IPC.
- It was held that an attempt must be distinguished from the intention to commit it and the preparation for the commission of the crime.
- The question of intention and motive was dealt with the case of Atley v. State of U.P, AIR 1955 SC 807 wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it is not necessary to prove as to what motivated the act. The commission of the act needs to be proved and the motive is immaterial.
- In the case of Aman Kumar v State of Haryana, 2004 (4) SCC 379 the Supreme Court observed that an attempt is made punishable because it creates alarm in the minds and the moral guilt of the person omitting an act is the same had he succeeded in his actions.
- In the case of Ravule Hariprasada Rao v State, (1951) SCR 322, it was held that a person should not be held guilty of an offence if there was no guilty mind to commit the offence.
- In the case of Kartar Singh v State of Punjab, 1994 (3) SCC 569, it was held that the doctrine of mens rea must be read as a part of the statute unless and until it has been specifically ruled out of the statute by words or by necessary implications.
Thus it can be concluded that a crime is not just an act or omission which is a standalone act but there are several stages which are involved in the commission of an offense. Law does not criminalize all the stages of the crime but it punishes when the offense is complete.
We have already seen the exceptions where certain acts become offenses and are punishable under the Indian Penal Code. One needs to keep in mind the thin differences between the concepts of preparation and attempt, knowledge and intention etc.
The intention is very important in seeing that whether a crime has been committed or not and one can obviously never ignore the actus reus, but actus reus without the mens rea is not punishable and will not constitute a crime unless the act falls in the exceptions discussed above.