Elements of Crime


Criminal law is a body of rules and statues that defines conduct prohibited by the state because it threatens and harms public safety and welfare and that establishes punishment to be imposed for the commission of such acts. Criminal law differs from civil law whose emphasis is more on dispute resolution than in punishment.


The term ‘Criminal Law’ generally refers to substantive criminal laws.Substantive criminal laws define crimes and prescribe punishments.

Blackstone defined crime as an act committed or omitted in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it.

Fundamental Elements of Crime

1. Human Being: Human being must commit wrongful Act to fulfil first element of a crime that means any non-living thing or animals are not considered in the category of a person or a human being whereas in ancient times when criminal law was closely dominated by the punishment which was also inflicted on animals for the injury caused by them. For example, a horse was killed for kicking a man but in Indian Penal Code if an animal causes injury we do not make animal liable but the owner is held liable for such injury so the first element of crime is human beings who must be given appropriate punishment and should be under legal obligation to held criminally liable. ‘Person’ is defined in Section 11 of Indian Penal Code which includes company, association or body of persons whether incorporated or not. The word person includes artificial or juridical persons. He is a legal entity created by law which is not a natural person such as a corporation created under state statute. It is a legal entity having a distinguished identity and legal rights and obligation under the law.

2. Injury: Another requirement of a crime is injury should be caused to another person or to society at large. According to Section 44 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 the injury is defined as any harm illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property by another person. Elements of crime are a set of facts that must be proven to convict a defendant of a crime.

3. Mens Rea (or Guilty Mind): The second element is derived from the famous maxim Actus Non-Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea. It means the guilty intention and guilty Act together constitute a crime. It comes from a maxim that no person can be punished in a proceeding of criminal nature unless it can be shown he has a guilty mind. The second element is Mens rea which can be explained in various forms: a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent, guilty knowledge and Willfulness all constitute the same thing that Mens rea. Motive and Intention are both aspects in the field of law and justice both are very important. They are also associated with the purpose of proving or disproving a particular case or crime. Wrong motive with guilty intention is necessary to prove criminal liability. From the perspective of Mens Rea there are three kinds of wrongs:

A) Intentional of wilful wrongs, where the offender does an act intending to do it. In such cases, Mens Rea amounts to intention, purpose or design.

B) Wrongs of negligence, where there is no wrongful intention, but a failure to take proper care and precaution. In such cases, ‘culpae’ constitutes the Mens rea.

C) Wrongs of Strict Liability, where the law does not require the presence of

Mens Rea.

General Principles of Mens Rea: There are two elements of Mens Rea. The first one is intended to do the Act and the second one is knowledge of the circumstances that make the Act a criminal offence. Mens rea takes on different types in the different surrounding that is what is evil intent for one type of criminal offence may not be so for another kind. For example, in case of murder intent to goes is Mens Rea then in case of theft intent to steal is Mens Rea. Other form of Mens Rea includes Negligence.

Intention as Mens Rea

It is the purpose or design for which an Action has been done. The intention is basically Position of mind at a particular time in committing an offence and will be accused of seeing the effects of his unlawful effect. Section 39 of IPC defined term voluntarily a person is said to cause an effect voluntarily when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it or by means which at the time of employing those means he knows or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.

Knowledge as Mens rea

Knowledge is the awareness of the consequences of the Act. The term ‘Knowledge’ is used in Section 307 (attempt to murder) instead of Mens Rea, the knowledge and intention are on the same footing with a guilty mind. Therefore it is also a component which includes Mens Rea. Hence, Indian Penal Code recognizes Mens rea as knowledge. In the case of Om Prakash vs. State of Punjab [AIR 1953 SC 364 (27)], defendant does not give the food to his wife for several weeks and he is now liable for murder because act must be done with intent or knowledge of the scarcity of food.

Negligence as Mens Rea

The third form of Mens Rea is negligence. Negligence is the duty to take care of. In other words, a person is negligent if he fails to exercise the duty or caution while performing a lawful Act. The concept of reasonable negligence is not defined anywhere. Test of reasonable care depends on the view of the prudent man therefore who is able to fail to take care of reasonable care and if his Actions cause harm anyone it is called the negligent Actions of a person, this, a negligent Act is considered as a Mens Rea for criminal liability of a person.

Exception of Mens Rea – Vicarious Liability

A person who does any wrongful Act through another person(servant/agent) by hiring them and the hired person does that wrongful Act in the course of employment is known as Vicarious Liability. The principal is liable to be committed by his agent during the course of employment. The plaintiff has the choice to sue the principal or agent or both of them.

4. Actus Reus: It is a Latin term for the guilty Act. The Act you need to commit an offence. It must be a voluntary Act Actually doing something e.g. taking a bracelet in a theft. It is not an involuntary Act. Actus Reus is such a result of human conduct as law seeks to prevent. It should be prohibited by law. It is a physical aspect of the crime.

This maxim is used to determine whether an Act committed by a person is an offence or crime or not. Severe penal Actions are required for crimes committed with specific intentions and not for unanticipated or unintentional Acts. However, no breach of law cannot be unpunished.

Actus Reus can also be the omission of an act, by omitting to do something that the accused knows he is bound by duty or law to do for example: – a mother intentionally omits to feed her female child, leading to the child’s death. The mother can legally be charged with causing death by negligence, and may also be charged with murder, if her intentions of murdering her infant can be proven in court.


The Mens Rea besides Human beings, Injury and Actus Reus is an essential element of the crime. It is one of the most important essential elements of crime. There can be no crime of any nature without an evil mind. Thus, the crime is the combination of both act and intent. Generally, a person is presumed to know the nature and consequences of his actions and is held liable for his act. The importance of elements of crime is to constitute whether a person is guilty after committing a crime or not.

Aishwarya Says:

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