In a given criminal case in order for a person to be held liable, the act alone won’t suffice. There needs to be a mental element, mens rea. There are many types of mens rea. Two of the prominent ones are common intention and indirect intention. Common intention refers to the instance wherein a group of people act or commit a criminal act in order to attain a common goal. Indirect intent refers to a situation where the act which is committed doesn’t affect the party it was aimed at but causes problems to another. The concept can be better understood by analysing the following cases.
Kartar Singh v. the State of Punjab: Common Object
In this case, there was a plot of land under dispute. There were 2 parties involved in the dispute. One day Kartar Singh, who was not connected with the land dispute along with 2 of his companions went to plough the disputed land. There Darshan Singh a party to the disputed land along with his companions were present and challenged them to a fight. Subsequently an altercation occurred between both parties. In the fight, Darshan Singh succumbed to his injuries. The Sessions Court Kartar Singh and companions under Section 302, Section 307, Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. An appeal was made to the Punjab High Court which was dismissed. A further appeal was made before the Supreme Court. Since the evidence was not sufficient to prove the people involved in the fight and Karatr Singh was armed, there was no defence of right to self-defence that could be used. The conviction was changed to under Section 302, Section 307 read with Section 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Here common intention was the idea that the Court highlighted. Section 34 of the IPC states that “Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention. —When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.” Here the acts of each person were with the intent of harming Darshan Singh and friends, hence they had a common intention. Section 149 of IPC which was the initial conviction stated that “Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object.—If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.” The changed conviction is a clear indicator on the importance that intention holds in criminal justice adjudication. From common acts, the focus shifted to the common intention of the parties, which plays a major role in the criminal law system.
Kurien v. State of Kerala: Transferred malice
In the case at hand, there was a family issue between the sons of 2 brothers. Due to some previous issue, the appellant and the prosecution got into an altercation. To prevent anything from happening, the wife of the prosecution witness got in between while carrying her 8-month-old child. The appellant aimed to throw a knife at the prosecution witness which struck the child causing his death. The Sessions Court held him guilty under Section 302 of the IPC and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The appellant during initial questioning had said that it was dark and that he identified that the child was struck only after hearing the cry.
The High Court took this point into consideration. Also, the fact that blow that was struck would’ve injured the prosecution witness, but wouldn’t have caused death was considered by the Court. It was because the baby was injured that death occurred. The Section 301 of the IPC, 1856 could be applied as it embodies the principle of doctrine of transfer of malic. This however would be injury and not causing death as the appellant aimed to injury not kill. Considering all these facts, the High Court convicted the person under Section 326 of the IPC, 1856 and sentenced them to 3 years in prison.
This is the most classic example of transferred malice. Though the malice was aimed at one person, with intention to injure, if B gets killed in the process, then the person can only be convicted for causing injury and not murder, or even culpable homicide as the intention is given prominence. Here there is an indirect intent, however since the intent was to cause injury and not to kill, the conviction was based on Section 326.
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