This article on Mens Rea is written by Manish Kansra, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article would talk about all the aspects of the Mens Rea. Suppose you were driving a car and you were drunk, you involuntarily caused harm to others. You might say that I did not do that act intentionally. But this can’t be taken as an excuse because you voluntarily chose to drink and drive. In the same situation if a healthy person, while driving, suffers a heart attack and that causes the other person some harm in such a situation you can take a plea, and he would not be held liable.
Therefore it becomes very important to understand the concept of Mens Rea which means the intention of the person doing an act. Due to only this concept in many cases, it has been seen that the accused was acquitted of the charges of the offence because Mens Rea was not involved.
Earlier during the 12th century, there was no concept of Mens Rea. It was not considered to be the element of the crime. The person who committed the act used to get punished. Regardless of the fact that the accused intentionally committed the crime or not. The concept of Mens Rea was introduced in the 17th century. With the Latin Maxim “actus reus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea” which means “There can be no crime without a guilty mind”. This was a revolutionary concept, later this concept was even taken by the English Law and even was incorporated into the Indian Criminal laws at the time of the British Era.
The mental element of the crime is one of the elements which are now contained in most laws in India, so as to make an act by a person criminally liable for the punishment.
The doctrine of Mens Rea
Mens Rea basically means criminal intention or guilty mind. In simple terms, we could say it’s the mindset of the criminal while performing the crime. This concept does not make an act guilty unless the mind is also guilty of the other person. Just happening of an act does not amount to a crime, Mens Rea is an essential element to constitute a criminal liability. An act would arise a criminal liability only when the act was done voluntarily.
This concept is also based on the maxim – “Actus me invito factus non-est mens actus” means an act done by me against my will is not my act. This maxim basically means no person could be held liable for the act if it is done against his will or under compulsion. Therefore, it is important to have an intention to do injury.
How Mens Rea is used in The Indian Penal Code (IPC)
Mens Rea could be traced in two ways in IPC:
- In IPC all the definitions are precisely defined including the evil intention which is an important part of the offence. Words like voluntarily, Intentionally, knowingly, fraudulently, etc are used which shows the presence of the doctrine of Mens Rea.
- The second proof of Mens Rea in IPC is in Chapter IV of General Exception. Under these general exceptions, there are a lot of cases that have been excluded where there was the absence of evil intent in one form or another.
According to Stephen “Intention is an operation of the will directing an overt act. Motive is the feeling which prompts the operation of the will, the ulterior object of the person’s will” For example if a person kills the other person, for the satisfaction of the desire of revenge. So in such a situation, the intention of the person would be to cause the death of the other person. Whereas the motive is the object that was to take revenge.
Intention and motive are two separate things. The intention could be said as the willingness of the person to do some act. Whereas motive is the reason behind doing the act. Both motive and intention facilitate the prosecution of a crime. The intention is considered to be more important than the motive. The intention could be said as the means and the motive is the end. For example, a person takes the bike of another person in good faith without the wrong motive but without the consent of the person. Then this act will be considered theft. He will be liable for the same.
Mens Rea & its types
Mens Rea can be divided into four:
- General Intent
- Special Intent
- Criminal negligence
- Strict liability crimes
General intent requires the offender’s voluntary intention to do an act and its consequences. For a person to be convicted it is required to prove his intent to do the act. An illegal act must be followed by the offender’s voluntary intention to do the act and that he was aware of what he was doing. Examples of the general Intent following – Kidnapping, Rape, Battery, etc
Specific intent requires that the offender does an act voluntarily to achieve a specific goal. A specified result is followed by the voluntary act of the offender. Specific Intent cannot be inferred from the commission of an act, it is to be specifically proved. For Example – Burglary, Conspiracy, Assault, etc.
There exist crimes that do not require any general or specific Intent on the part of the defendant. To constitute a crime and to hold the defendant liable, mere criminal negligent action of the defendant is also sufficient. Criminal negligence clubbed with recklessness may also exist together. Recklessness is a higher level of guilt than criminal negligence. The defendant’s mental state must be of such a nature that the failure to perceive the risks of his actions constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary man would exercise.
An example to understand it is a case of illegal drag racing. When a person speeds up even after knowing the speed limit; it leads to negligent homicide as two vehicles engage in reckless driving; which leads to a crash and fatality, and a conviction would fall. Because driving at those speeds while drag racing exhibits disregard for others’ interests to amount to a gross deviation below the standard of care expected of a reasonably careful man.
There are crimes that fall under the head – of public welfare offences and such crimes do not require mens rea. A defendant could be found guilty merely for the act committed by him. To determine whether a crime is a strict liability crime depends upon the state legislation’s intention. An example of a strict liability crime is statutory rape.
The intention behind an act of a person plays a very vital role in holding a person liable. There are cases where the intent is to be proved beforehand whereas there are also cases where a person may be held liable even if there was no such intention. A person cannot be convicted without proving intention but he may be held liable without proving his intent under strict liability crimes. Such is done to protect a class of persons e g statutory rape.
Even if the other person believed that his partner was of majority age, he would still be guilty of committing the crime so long as the victim is under a certain age.
- Mishra, S. (2020). In S. Mishra, Indian Penal Code.
- R & Negi (2019, August 18). Mens Rea: Mental element in crime. Law Times-Journal. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://lawtimesjournal.in/mens-rea-mental-element-in-crime/
- Mens Rea, criminal law in India, the guilty mind of the. NearLaw.com. (2018, January 8). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from http://kanoon.nearlaw.com/2018/01/08/mens-rea/
- Sayre, F. B. (1932). Mens rea. Harvard Law Review, 45(6), 974-1026.
- Packer, H. L. (1962). Mens Rea and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Review, 1962, 107-152.