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Definition Of Crime And Elements Of Crime: Actus Reus And Mens Rea

Criminal law is a set of rules and regulations that prohibits conduct that is harmful or endangers the safety and welfare of the public and prescribes punishment for such conduct. Criminal law is different from civil law because it focuses more on dispute resolution rather than punishment.

The term criminal law mainly refers to substantive criminal law. Basic criminal law defines offenses and prescribes punishment. Instead, Criminal Procedure describes the enforcement of criminal law. For example, a law prohibiting murder is a substantive criminal law. The state's method of enforcing this important law through the collection of evidence and litigation is generally considered procedural law.

Early civilizations generally did not distinguish between civil and criminal law. The first written law code was created by the Sumerians between 2100 and 2050 BC. Another important early code is the Code of Hammurabi, which formed the core of Babylonian law. These early legal codes did not distinguish between criminal law and civil law. Only fragments of the first criminal law of ancient Greece survived. It was Solon and Draco.

After the restoration of Roman law in the 12th century, the Roman classification and jurisprudence of the sixth century provided the basis for distinguishing between criminal and civil law in European law. The first sign of the modern distinction between criminal and civil matters appeared when the Normans invaded England.

At least in Europe, the concept of criminal punishment, the theological concept of God's punishment (poena aeterna) inflicted only on the guilty mind, was first codified and finally secularized at the end of Spanish scholasticism. Criminal law. The development of the judicial state began in the 18th century when European countries began to provide police services. In this sense, the criminal law formalized the enforcement mechanism that is allowed to develop as a transparent law

Crime is a moral crime committed against society as a whole. It disturbs the peace, and some criminal acts may cause widespread panic and disrupt the normal activities of the community. The burden of prosecuting crimes rests with the State and the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.

The state acts to protect victims of crime and deter perpetrators from committing further crimes, and acts to bring justice to victims. States also take steps to punish perpetrators, and most countries have prisoner reform programs in place to transform perpetrators into law-abiding and conscientious citizens.

Animals cannot commit crimes; therefore, an integral part of any crime is that it must be committed by a human. However, crimes against animals can happen and are punishable by law. Mens rea and criminal conduct are two fundamental principles of any crime and are regarded as principles in most common law countries.

Mens Rea
Mens rea is an essential part of deciding whether an act is culpable or not. Mens rea means "guilty spirit" or mens rea, intent to harm another person or animal or express intent to disturb the peace. Actus Reus, however, is the "guilty conduct" required to prove a criminal offence.

There are certain principles that must be followed in dealing with any crime, and trust is given to the accused when in doubt. The onus is on prosecutors to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of the defense is to provide reasonable doubt to a judge or jury because the principles of justice dictate that a person cannot be convicted unless the alleged charge cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Mens rea indicates the defendant's specific intent to commit the criminal act of which he is charged. It must be shown that the defendant committed the crime knowingly, knew what he was doing, and had bad intentions toward the victim.

If a person drives while intoxicated and involuntarily causes harm to another person, they are still guilty because drinking before driving was their voluntary choice, even if the crime itself was unintentional. However, if an otherwise healthy person involuntarily causes harm to another person by having a heart attack while driving, they are not liable and do not commit a crime.

The underlying principle of the doctrine of mens rea is that an act does not make an individual guilty unless the mind is also guilty, which is expressed in the Latin maxim 'actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea'. The mere commission of a criminal act (or bringing about the state of affairs that the law provides against) is not enough to constitute crime, at any rate in the case of more serious crimes.

The element of wrongful intent is required to constitute criminal liability. In the common term, intention means purpose or desire to bring about a contemplated result or foresight that certain consequences will follow from the conduct of the person. Lord Kenyon in Fowler v. Padget stated it is the principle of natural justice that the intent and act must concur to constitute the crime.

R v Smith [1959] 2 QB 35
The defendant, who was a soldier, had a fight in an army barracks and stabbed another soldier. The injured soldier was taken to the hospital but was dropped two times on the way. When he arrived, the treatment provided was incorrect. The medics did not recognize that his lung was punctured. The soldier died as a result. The defendant was found guilty of murder and appealed, arguing that the victim would have survived with proper medical care.

The court held the conviction as the stab wound was the operative cause of death. Therefore, inadequate medical care does not disrupt the causal link when the initial injury is still a considerable factor at the time of death. Only if a secondary cause is so dominant that it makes the original injury just a background factor can it be claimed that the first act did not cause the death.

Actus Reus
Actus Reus is the physical aspect of crime. The defendant must have done or failed to do something that caused harm to the plaintiff or the victim in a civil case. If there is no criminal act, no criminal offense can be constituted and no suit for damages will arise. However, the act itself does not constitute a crime. When the intention of the actor and the act itself are prohibited, they together constitute a crime and accidentally striking someone attempting to unsafely cross the road.

(Example: carrying a knife into someone's house with the express intention of committing the act of murder, or driving a car on a foggy night). Furthermore, the act can be voluntary or involuntary, and guilt depends on the facts of the case.

In some cases, the circumstances of the case are also taken into account and often help conclusively prove guilt or prove a reasonable doubt of intent.

Actus Reus can also be a failure to act, i.e. a failure to take an action that the defendant knew he was obliged to take (Example: - A mother deliberately fails to feed her daughter, resulting in the death of the child.) A mother can be charged with manslaughter, but she could also be charged with murder if her intent to murder the child could be proven in court.

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, fact, time, person, consent, the state of mind, possession or preparation; varies depending on the definition of the crime. The requirements of actus Reus varies depending on the definition of the crime.

Actus Reus mat be with reference to the following:
  • Place: In the offence of criminal trespass, house breaking or in the aggravated forms thereof, the actus Reus is in respect of place.
  • 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, the actus reus is in respect of both place and time.
  • Person: In offences of kidnapping and abduction, procuring of a minor girl, etc., the Actus Reus is in respect of the person.
  • Consent: In the offence of rape, consent is the Actus Reus.
  • V. state of Mind of the Victim: In offences relating to religion or where rape is committed when consent has been obtained by putting the victim in fear of death or of hurt, the Actus Reus is with reference to the state of mind of the victim.

Under Indian law, children under the age of seven are considered innocent and cannot be convicted of any crime. Children under the age of 18 cannot be tried like adults and can only be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison.

Strict Liability
In some cases, there are no-fault liability clauses where mens rigor does not come into play. Examples include cases of statutory rape and the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors. Whether or not the defendant thinks his actions are legal, he commits the crime. In this case, Actus Reus alone was sufficient to establish guilt and obtain a conviction by the competent court.

Some crimes require a deeper mens rea, such as theft. Crimes such as theft involve the specific intent to deprive the rightful owner of full use of stolen property and enjoyment of his or her personal property, with no intention of returning said property to its rightful owner. However, in the event of a theft, the item does not necessarily have to be removed from the victim's property.

The Act Must Be Voluntary
Act means a conscious or willed movement and it is a conduct, which results from the operation of the will. According to Austin, any movement of the body, which is not consequence of the determination of the will, is not a voluntary act. A voluntary act only amounts to an offence. If a person is compelled by force of circumstances to perform an act, forbidden by law, he cannot be said to do it voluntary, and therefore, he will not be held liable for the consequences of that act. This situation is known as automatism in which an act on the part of the accused is involuntary where it is beyond his control or beyond the control of his mind.

Sections 32 and 33 of the IPC define the term 'act'. Section 32 provides that in every part of the Code (except where a contrary intention appears from the context), words, which refer to 'acts done extend to illegal omissions'. Section 33 provides that the word 'act' includes 'a series of act' and the word 'omission' denotes 'a series of omissions as a single omission'. A combined effect of sections 32 and 33 is that the term 'act' takes into its fold one or more acts; or more illegal omissions. The IPC makes omissions punishable, provided that they are illegal and have caused, intended to cause, or like to cause, like acts and an actus Reus.

An act of omission attracts criminal liability only when a person is placed under duty to act recognized by the criminal law and he, with the requisite blameworthy mind, failed to fulfill it. Such legal duties to act might arise out of relationship or contracts, or might be imposed by statues. Section 39 of the IPC defines the term voluntary as the instance where the person is said to cause an effect ''voluntarily'' when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.

The term 'voluntarily' as defined in this section shows that a person need not intend to cause the actual effect caused, in order to be held to have voluntarily caused such an effect. If the effect is the probable consequence of the act done by him, then he is said to have caused it voluntarily. Thus, it makes no distinction between cases in which a person causes an effect designedly and cases in which he causes it knowingly or having reason to believe that he is likely to cause it.

Further, if a particular effect could have been avoided by due exercise of reasonable care and caution, then the effect of such negligent act is also said to have been voluntarily caused. The question whether the effect of a particular act was caused voluntarily, is a question of fact to be determined on the basis of the facts and circumstances of each case. Some of the factors that may be taken into consideration are the nature of injury caused, the weapon used, force used and the part of the victim' body affected.

In Om Prakash v State of Punjab, the Supreme Court was called upon to adjudge the propriety of conviction of the husband for attempting to kill his wife by deliberately failing to give her food. The accused, whose relations with his wife were strained, deliberately and systematically starved his wife and denied her food for a number of days. With the help of his relatives, he also prevented her from leaving the house. Owing to continuous undernourishment and starvation, she was reduced to a mere skeleton. However, one day she managed to escape from the house as her husband forgot to lock her room before leaving the house.

She got herself admitted to a hospital, where she was found seriously ill by the doctor and the police was informed. The wife recovered after a prolonged treatment and blood transfusion. The police registered a case against the husband under section 307 of IPC . The session's court convicted the husband for the offence under section 307 of the IPC.

The conviction was also confirmed by the High Court, while observing that the food was intentionally withheld to shorten the remaining span of her life because it can be derived from the facts that by withholding food to her, death would have resulted surely though gradually.

The Supreme Court appreciated the High Court's reasoning that law does not require an intention to cause death then and there and confirmed the conviction of Om Prakash on the ground of his illegal omission. Section 36 of the Indian Penal Code stipulates that where an act or an omission constitute an offence, the committing of the offence partly by an act and partly by an omission, would also constitute the same offence.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Shreyash Gupta
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