The Elements Of A Crime

I – Overview :- Criminal law is a body of rules and statutes 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. In contrast, Criminal Procedure describes the process through which the criminal laws are enforced. For example, the law prohibiting murder is a substantive criminal law. The manner in which state enforces this substantive law—through the gathering of evidence and prosecution—is generally considered a procedural matter.


II –  History: – The first civilizations generally did not distinguish between civil law and criminal law. The first written codes of law were designed by the Sumerians around 2100-2050 BC. Another important early code was the Code Hammurabi, which formed the core of Babylonian law. These early legal codes did not separate penal and civil laws. Of the early criminal laws of Ancient Greece only fragments survive, e.g. those of Solon and Draco.

After the revival of Roman law in the 12th century, sixth-century Roman classifications and jurisprudence provided the foundations of the distinction between criminal and civil law in European law from then until the present time. The first signs of the modern distinction between crimes and civil matters emerged during the Norman invasion of England. The special notion of criminal penalty, at least concerning Europe, arose in Spanish Late Scolasticism, when the theological notion of God’s penalty (poena aeterna) that was inflicted solely for a guilty mind, became transfused into canon law first and, finally, to secular criminal law. The development of the state dispensing justice in a court clearly emerged in the eighteenth century when European countries began maintaining police services. From this point, criminal law had formalized the mechanisms for enforcement, which allowed for its development as a discernible entity.


III –  Definition Of Crime: – Many jurists have defined crime in their own ways some of which are as under:
· Blackstone defined crime as an act committed or omitted in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it.
· Stephen observed a crime is a violation of a right considered in reference to the evil tendency of such violation as regards the community at large.
· Oxford Dictionary defines crime as an act punishable by law as forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare.


IV – Fundamental Elements Of Crime :- There are four elements which go to constitute a crime, these are:-
· Human being
· Mens rea or guilty intention
· Actus reus or illegal act or omission
· Injury to another human being

Human Being- The first element requires that the wrongful act must be committed by a human being. In ancient times, when criminal law was largely dominated by the idea of retribution, punishments were inflicted on animals also for the injury caused by them, for example, a pig was burnt in Paris for having devoured a child, a horse was killed for having kicked a man. But now, if an animal causes an injury we hold not the animal liable but its owner liable for such injury.

So the first element of crime is a human being who- must be under the legal obligation to act in a particular manner and should be a fit subject for awarding appropriate punishment.

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

Mens Rea- The second important essential element of a crime is mens rea or evil intent or guilty mind. There can be no crime of any nature without mens rea or an evil mind. Every crime requires a mental element and that is considered as the fundamental principle of criminal liability. The basic requirement of the principle mens rea is that the accused must have been aware of those elements in his act which make the crime with which he is charged.

There is a well known maxim in this regard, i.e. “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means that, the guilty intention and guilty act together constitute a crime. It comes from the maxim that no person can be punished in a proceeding of criminal nature unless it can be showed that he had a guilty mind.

Actus Reus [Guilty Act Or Omission] – The third essential element of a crime is actus reus. In other words, some overt act or illegal omission must take place in pursuance of the guilty intention. Actus reus is the manifestation of mens rea in the external world. Prof. Kenny was the first writer to use the term ‘actus reus’. He has defined the term thus- “such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent”.

Injury- The fourth requirement of a crime is injury to another person or to the society at large. The injury should be illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property as according to Section 44 of IPC, 1860 the injury denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.


V. Stages Of A Crime :-  If a person commits a crime voluntarily or after preparation the doing of it involves four different stages. In every crime, there is first intention to commit it, secondly, preparation to commit it, thirdly, attempt to commit it and fourthly the accomplishment.

Aishwarya Says:

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