Elements of Crime

Elements of Crime

The elements of crime are described as follows:

The first element of crime is the human being. Only human beings are liable for their criminal acts. Animals or plants are not liable under the Penal Code for causing harm to humans or each other. A dog biting an 8-year-old boy is not liable for causing simple hurt. Only humans are liable under the Penal Code.

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

This latin maxim constitutes the second element of crime. It includes the mental element and the physical element. The mental element is called Mens Rea. The physical element is called actus reus. Mens rea means guilty mind. Actus reus means guilty act. The literal translation of actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea is that act is not guilty and not liable to be punished unless it was performed with a guilty mind. The act is not guilty unless mind is also guilty.

The Penal Code only punishes people who are capable of taking responsibility for their actions.

  • Mens rea

Mens rea means guilty mind. Almost all crimes have some mental element. Examples of mens rea include intent, knowledge, rashness, recklessness, reason to believe, fraudulent, dishonest, corruptly, allowing, omitting, maliciously, deliberately, voluntarily etc.

The expression mens rea is nowhere used in the PC. However essence of mens rea is found through expressions like intent, knowledge and reason to believe etc.

  • Actus reus

Actus reus means guilty act. It consists of physical actions which are prohibited by law. Examples of actus reus include theft, extortion, murder, cheating, bribery, forgery, hurt, assault, rioting, cruelty, bigamy etc.

Legal obligation to act in a particular way or to abstain from certain conduct

The Penal Code, 1860 imposes legal obligations to act in a particular way or abstain from certain conduct. The Penal Code punishes wrongful conduct. It punishes conduct which is harmful such as murder, or immoral such as bigamy. The offenders are punished for any violation of penal law.

Injury to human being or society at large

Conduct which is harmful to human beings such as hurt or cruelty to wife is punished by the penal law. Conduct which is harmful to society at large such as drug trafficking and dowry is also punished by special penal laws

Injury to human being is defined in Section 44 of the Penal Code. Injury means injury to mind, body, reputation or property. Cruelty is an example of injury to mind; simple hurt is an example of injury to body; defamation is an example of injury to reputation; and mischief is an example of injury to property.

Kinds of Mens Rea


Intention means desired objective or desire to achieve certain purpose. Humans are able to desire things which they consider are beneficial for them. This human forseeability and desire is sometimes deleterious for other human beings or the society at large.

The Penal Code deals with bad or guilty intentions of human beings. Intention in the PC is reflected by terms such as intentionally, voluntarily, willfully or deliberately. For example, Section 298 of the PC deals with deliberate intent to wound religious sentiments.

Transferred Intention

A intends to murder X. For achieving this objective A mixes poison in X’s food and places it on X’s table. However, Y feeling unusually hungry raids X’s lunch and dies. A is liable for Y’s murder even though he did not intend it. This is known as transferred intention and is mentioned in Section 301 of the PC.


Knowledge is the awareness of consequences of any act or omission. For instance, a bus driver has knowledge that if he doesn’t keep his eyes on the road while driving, an accident may ensue even if he doesn’t intend it. Here the bus driver has knowledge, but may have no intention to commit an accident.

Negligence is of two kinds – advertent negligence and inadvertent negligence.

Advertent negligence or rashness or recklessness or willful negligence

Advertent negligence is also known as negligence where risk is foreseen yet the risk is undertaken foolishly by thinking no bad consequence shall result. This is common in rash driving wherein the driver in a hurry knows that he is not driving in a proper manner yet takes the risk thinking no bad consequence will result. If an accident ensues the driver is liable for advertent negligence or rashness or reckless. This is also known as willful negligence. The expression advertent means avoidable. The persons knows he can avoid this conduct be refraining from it, yet he goes along to bear the risk in a devil may care attitude. This is known as advertent negligence.

Inadvertent negligence means absence of duty to take care and due precaution. A doctor who leaves the scissors inside the patient’s wound is liable for simple negligence because he did not have knowledge of them being inside when he sew the wound. The doctor thus commits inadvertent or simple negligence because he did not have opportunity to prevent it lest by due care and caution which he failed to do.


Motive is not mens rea. Motive prompts a man to form an intention. Motive is not an essential element of crime. Motive however is relevant under the Evidence Act. Motive helps in indicating intention. While investigating, the police use motive to find out who must have committed the crime or who has the best reason to commit the crime. Motive helps the investigating agencies to narrow down on the accused. Motive is not the same as intention. Motive and intention are quite different from each other even though they appear to be similar.

For example, when one feels hungry the motive is to satisfy hunger by eating. Whereas intention may be to steal bread if one doesn’t have money to pay for it. This is the difference between motive and intention.


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