June 20, 2024

By Aashank Dwivedi

Image Credit Bhumika Navin

Crime: The word crime is derived from the Latin word ‘cerno’ which means “I decide, I give judgement”.  Normally, it is defined as an act which is punishable by law as forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare.

Stephen: He observed that a crime is a violation of a right considered in reference to the evil tendency of such violation as regards the community at large.

Elements of Crime

  1. Intention
  2. Motive
  3. Mens Rea
  4. Knowledge
  5. Innocence
  6. Mistake of fact
  7. Mistake of law


Criminal intention simply means the purpose or design of doing an act forbidden by the criminal law without just cause or excuse. The intention of an accused to produce a particular consequence shows his intention to do an act. As a general rule, every sane person is presumed to intend the necessary or the natural and probable consequences of his acts, and this presumption of law prevails unless from a consideration of all the evidence the court entertains a reasonable doubt whether such intention existed or not.

An accused must be judged to have the intention that is indicated by his proved acts.

The burden of proving guilty intention lies upon the prosecution where the intent is laid to commit a wrong.

In the case of State of Maharashtra v. M.H. George, 1956 it was laid down that the criminal intent as a psychological fact has to be proved even in regard to offences under the special acts unless it is specifically ruled out by necessary implications.


Motive is not to be confused with intention. If a man knows that a certain consequence will follow from this act, it must be presumed in the law that the intended consequence to take place although it may have had some quite different ulterior motive for performing an act.

 If there is really no motive and the crime is completely motiveless then the circumstances can be taken into consideration along with the evidence of prior insanity. The question of motive where there is direct evidence if acts of the accused and the acts themselves are sufficient to disclose the intention of the actor. But in the case of circumstantial evidence, absence of motive is a factor in the favour of the accused.

Mens rea

It is one of the principles of the English criminal law that a crime is not committed if the mind of the person doing the act in question is innocent. It is well known laid down in the maxim: Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea which means that the intent and the act must both concur to commit a crime.

The maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea has, however no application to the offences under the penal code. The definition states whether the act must have been done ‘intentionally’, ‘voluntarily’, ‘knowingly’, ‘dishonestly’, or ‘fraudulently’.

The doctrine of mens rea is not applicable when in any case the Indian Legislature has omitted to prescribe a particular mental condition, the presumption is that the omission is intentional.


Where the knowledge of fact is an essential ingredient of an offence it must be distinctly proved. There are certain offences in the penal code where the accused who commits an offence is punished irrespective of fact whether he had knowledge or not.


The law presumes innocence until guilt is proved. The proving of everything essential to the establishment of charge against the accused lies on the prosecution. Every man is to be regarded as legally innocent until the contrary is proved.

Mistake of fact

Mistake is defined as an erroneous mental condition, conception and conviction induced by ignorance, misapprehension, or misunderstanding of the truth, and resulting in some act or omission done or suffered erroneously by one or both of the parties.

A mistake consists in an unconsciousness, ignorance, forgetfulness of a fact or a belief of existence if thing or material. Under the IPC the mistake must be of not of the law.

For example: A thief cannot escape punishment by saying that he entered a wrong house through mistake, nor can a murderer be heard to say that he was not his intended victim.

Mistake of law

It happens partly when a party having a full knowledge of the facts comes to an erroneous conclusion as to their effect. Mistake is a point of law in criminal cases that have no defence. The maxim ignorantia juris non excusat, which means that ignorance of law is no excuse i.e if the person commits an act which is made an offence for the first time by a statute so recently it impossible that any notice of passing the statute could have reached the place where the offence has been committed, yet the ignorance of the statute could have reached the place where the offence has committed, yet the ignorance of the law or the statute will not save the accused from punishment.

The author is a 3rd Semester law student at Amity Law School Lucknow.

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