This article is written by Anushka Sharma from Delhi Metropolitan Education, GGSIPU, and curated by NAMAN JAIN from Bennett University, Greater Noida.
The two fundamental principles or components of the Criminal Law consists of both a mental and a physical element. These elements are Mens Rea and Actus Rea. Mens Rea is the mental element, whereas Actus Rea (the act itself) is a physical element.
The well-known Latin maxim “Actus non facit reum nisi means sit rea” clearly describes the relationship between guilty mind and crime in general. The maxim means that the act does not itself makes a person guilty unless the mind of the person is also guilty.
Guilty mind, also known as Mens Rea is the mental element, which is required for an act to constitute a crime. In simple words, the requirement is that the person doing wrong, also known as accused should be aware that he is doing something wrong. The intention of doing a wrongful act should be present to convict a person of a crime.
The origin of this element can be traced back to the latter part of the common-law era. The concept was developed in England when the judges started considering that an act alone could not impose criminal liability unless and until it is accompanied by the mental element, i.e. the guilty state of mind.
The concept of Mens Rea allows our justice system to differentiate between the one who never intended to commit a crime and the other who committed crime intentionally. Let us take an example: There are two people named A and B, both are drivers. A was driving a truck and did not see the person C standing on the road until it was too late to apply the brakes, but was not able to avoid or prevent the accident and ended up killing C. On the other hand, the person B was driving his truck and was looking for the person named D, so that, he could kill him. Further, on seeing him, he increased the speed of the truck and ended up killing the person D. In the two scenarios mentioned above, the person B can be considered criminally liable as he intended to kill the person named D. On the other hand, A is liable for the act, but will be sued only in the Civil Courts for monetary damages. In simple words, the outcomes of both the acts are same, but the intentions of both A and B are different, and therefore, the punishment of both A and B will also vary.
Exception: There are certain criminal laws which do not require Mens Rea to constitute a crime. The act itself is considered sufficient in this case to constitute a crime. These are strict liability acts for which the law awards criminal punishment regardless of the intent of the person. These usually include the cases which involve minors, for example, The statutory rape laws. The act of having sex with a minor irrespective of the wrong belief of the offender that the person involved was above the age of 18 years, is also punishable.
Essentials of Mens Rea
- The construction of Mens Rea is from a person’s thought process, their motive, and intention.
- The two words, i.e. motive, and intention, are entirely different ideas. Motive is a reason behind the commission of an act, whereas intention is considered to be a person’s state of mind, and willingness to break the law.
- The presence of both these elements enables the prosecution of a crime, but the motive to commit an act is not considered as an essential element for a conviction.
Mens Rea is the most crucial element of a crime. The prosecution typically must prove beyond the reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed a offence having a criminal intention.
There are certain exceptions as mentioned above in the article, but apart from that in all the other cases, Mens Rea is an essential element to impose criminal liability.
Mens Rea is a term which is not defined in the Indian Penal Code but is still, an essential element when we talk about criminal law. It can take various forms such as intention (aim or purpose of the defendant), recklessness (the unreasonable taking of a risk by the defendant), negligence (the defendant’s failure to act according to the standards of a reasonable person), and strict liability (crimes which do not require a Mens Rea).
Keyword: Guilty Mind