What is actus reus?

Merely possessing a guilty mind and thinking of committing a crime is not enough. The accused person must also act on that intention and do something in its furtherance. Actus reus basically refers to an act or omission which leads to the completion of an offence. Both mens rea, as well as actus reus, together are important to create an offence. Actus reus can be a positive act, such as stabbing a person to cause his death. It can also be negative act like an omission (failure) to perform an action. For example, driving a vehicle without a driving license is an omission.

Actus reus (prohibited act) – the guilty act or guilty omission. An act is doing something that you shouldn’t and an omission is not doing something that you should have. The omission of an act can also constitute the basis for criminal liability. Actus reus, sometimes called the external element of a crime, is the Latin term for the “guilty act” which, when proved beyond a reasonable doubt in combination with the mens rea, “guilty mind”, produces criminal liability. All crimes require actus-reus. That is, a criminal act or an unlawful omission of an act must have occurred. A person cannot be punished for thinking criminal thoughts.

It is a physical result of human conduct. When criminal policy regards such a conduct as sufficiently harmful it is prohibited and the criminal policy provides a sanction or penalty for its commission. Such human conduct may consist of acts of commission as well as acts of omission. Section 32 of IPC lays down: 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.

Mere Words as Actus Reus-

Unlike thoughts, words can be considered acts in criminal law. For example, threats 503 IPC, perjury-191 IPC, conspiracy 120A IPC etc. are offenses in which words can constitute the element of actus reus. It is physical element of crime. It has been defined as such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent. It may be positive illegal act or negative (illegal omission).


As regards acts of omission which make a man criminally responsible, the rule is that no one would be held liable for the lawful consequences of his omission unless it is proved that he was under a legal obligation to act. In other words, some duty should have been imposed upon him by law, which he has omitted to discharge.

Under IPC, Section 43 lays down that the word “illegal” is applicable to everything which is an offence or which is prohibited by law, or which furnishes a ground for a civil action; and a person is said to be “legally bound to do whatever it is illegal in him to omit.” Therefore, an illegal omission would apply to omissions of everything which he is legally bound to do.

requirements of actus reus varies

Actus Reus includes all external circumstances and consequences specified in the rule of law as constituting the forbidden situation. The requirement of actus reus with reference to place, time, person, consent, the state of mind, possession or preparation etc. varies depending on the definition of the crime.

The requirements of actus reus varies depending on the definition of the crime. Actus reus may be with reference to the following:

i. Place: In the offence of criminal trespass, house breaking or in the aggravated forms thereof, the actus reus is in respect of place (sections 441-462 IPC)

ii. Time: In the offences of lurking house trespass or house breaking by night in order to commit an offence or after preparation for hurt, assault, or wrongful restraint, etc.

(Sections 456-458 IPC), the actus reus is in respect of both place and time.

iii. Person: In offences of kidnapping and abduction, procuring of a minor girl, etc., the actus reus is in respect of the person (sections 359-374 IPC).

iv. Consent: In the offence of rape, consent is the actus reus.

v. State of Mind of the Victim: In offences relating to religion (sections 295-298 IPC), or where rape is committed when consent has been obtained by putting the victim in fear of death or of hurt (section

375 IPC), the actus reus is with reference to the state of mind of the victim.

vi. Possession: Possession of stolen property constitutes the actus reus in certain offences (section 410-412 IPC).

vii. Preparation: Section 399 of IPC makes preparation to commit dacoity an offence; therefore, the preparation itself constitutes actus reus.


The prosecution cannot secure a conviction by only proving mens rea or actus reus. The defendant must have both mens rea and actus reus together – a guilty mind and the guilty act.

Concurrence of the two must be present.

Typically, the prosecution needs proof that the two occurred together, at the same time, to culminate in the crime in question. The guilty mind must coexist with or at least precede the guilty act. It does not necessarily matter whether mens rea was present up to the actus reus (such as premeditated crimes) Mens rea must have motivated the conduct that led to the actus reus.

There are Excetions to the actus reus, which is inj some cases the crime is constituted, although the actus reus has not consummated and no injury has resulted to any person. Such cases are known as inchoate crimes like attempt, abetment or conspiracy.

Sometimes threat of Injury is also punishable, In Indian Penal Code there are provisions under which the threat of Injury is punishable. They are as follows:

• Section 189- Threat of an injury to a public servant

• Section 190 – Threat of an injury to induce a person to refrain from applying for protection to a public servant

• Section 385- Putting a fear of injury on a person in order to commit extortion

In ordinary language ‘injury’ means a wound or hurt to the human body.

But section 44 has defined injury in a much wider sense to include not only bodily harm, but also harm to one’s mind, reputation or property. The illegality of the harm is the gist of the offence.

Thus, if the injury is not illegal, it is not injury within the meaning of this section because it must imply an illegal act or omission. An injury may be caused to person as in case of Hurt/Grevious Hurt, to the property as in the case of mischief or theft, it may be caused to reputation as in case of defamation, it may also be caused to mine as in case of domestic violence.


There should be an actus reus, i.e. an act committed or omitted in furtherance of such evil intent or mens rea. This may be called the objective element of a crime. In certain cases there is no existence physical element i.e. actus reus but they are still crimes. Then again, in some cases a crime is constituted, although the actus reus has not consummated and no injury has resulted to any person. Such cases are known as inchoate crimes, like attempt, abetment or conspiracy.


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