KnowCLAT

Elements of Crime

Of all the branches of law, the branch that closely relates, touches and concerns a man is that of the criminal law. There have been numerous attempts so as to define crime, but all failed to identify what kind of act or omission amounts to a crime. Perhaps, this might be due to the fact that crime has different notions and it is ever-changing from time to time and place to place.

Crime necessarily has two elements; Actus Reus and Mens Rea.

The literal meaning of Mens Rea is ‘guilty mind‘ “or ‘criminal intent‘ and Actus Reus is ‘guilty act‘ or ‘criminal act‘. Most crimes comprise of two broad and basic components: mens rea and actus reus. The reasoning or rationale behind the rule is that whoever commits wrong against the society with the intention of causing harm is punished. It is wrong for us to punish those who commit a guilty act without a guilty mind and cause harm in the continuation of such acts. To establish criminal conduct, the actus reus and the mens rea must occur at the same time. If anyone of them is missing, the person is acquitted of criminal charges.

Criminal intent does not importantly mean malicious intent, and a person can be found to have criminal intent even where his motives are good. The required intent is the intent to commit the prohibited act.

Example
If a person enters land in good faith but, the prosecution proves that he committed trespass with intent to damage the property. He will be held guilty. The criminal intent for the trespass was simply the person’s intentional entry onto the private property of another.

Example
Let’s say Manoj shoots Shyam with the intent to kill him; however, he misses the shot totally. Manoj later incidentally runs over Shyam, bringing about Shyam’s death. Manoj is not guilty of murdering Shyam.

Various crimes require various degrees of intent. It basically means a crime less dangerous in nature requires less proof and lower level of criminal intent and vice-versa.

Negligent homicide includes thoughtlessness, coincidence, or distraction in an individual’s obligation to practice due care toward others.

Example
A drunk driver who murders another is usually accused of criminal negligent homicide.

Intention

When a person intends to commit a crime, but he has not developed the intent before committing the criminal act, the person will be held to have done the act with the presence of intent.

Example
Aman gets into a fight with Binod, Aman pulls out the gun and shoots Binod and kills him, Aman will be considered to have enough intent, even though he did not develop a prior intent to kill Binod.

Specific intent and general intent are two different dimensions used to describe an individual’s state of mind. General intent implies the intention to do something that the law denies or prohibits; the prosecution doesn’t even have to establish that the defendant really intended the exact result for the act done on the first place. Specific intent includes a special element well beyond the actus reus, of the wrongdoing or the criminal act, and it implies an intentional act for which one had the knowledge of, such as planned murder.

Example
In cases of theft, the prosecution must establish the defendant’s intent to steal the given movable or immovable property.

Knowledge

Actus reus requires a voluntary act. Any individual who acts without a specific intent to commit a crime, but whose actions are intentional in such a way that the person knew or should have known that the wrongful result would occur, is said to have acted knowingly under the law.

Example
When a person fires a gun into a crowd, the person may not have intended to kill any particular person or an individual but he/she would still be held to have had the knowledge that death of any individual was a likely the result of his/her action.

Example
A person with neurological disorder, if strikes another during a seizure has not committed a battery.

Example
A person with such disorder, who knows he should not drive but does and causes injury, may be guilty of reckless criminal behaviour because he created a dangerous situation.

Case Law

A California appellate court reinstated a second-degree murder conviction of a woman whose two large dogs attacked and killed a neighbour woman in the hallway outside their apartments. Although the dogs were on a leash, their owner was unable to control them. The court ruled that the woman knew her dogs had a propensity to attack and that knowledge supported the conviction. Her knowledge of the probability of such an act established the required criminal intent or mens rea.

When a person acts with recklessness and consciously ignores the substantial risk involved in an act and his actions results in the commission of a crime, he/she will be held guilty.

An omission of an act which is supposed to be committed by any prudent person and he/she has omitted to perform such an act may also constitute a guilty act.

Example
Omission to fill out an income tax return is a violation of the law.

Example
A lifeguard who lets a child to drown and do not protect him from drowning would almost certainly face criminal charges.

Note:

  • Ignorance of the law is not a defence when a person commits an act that results as a crime.
  • A person who lacks the mental capacity to form intent to commit a crime is not guilty and will be acquitted under the insanity defence.

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