The Elements and Stages of a Crime
Criminal law is a body of rules and statutes that defines conduct prohibited by the state because it threatens and harms public safety and welfare and that establishes punishment to be imposed for the commission of such acts. Criminal law differs from civil law, whose emphasis is more on dispute resolution than in punishment.
The term criminal law generally refers to substantive criminal laws. Substantive criminal laws define crimes and prescribe punishments. In contrast, Criminal Procedure describes the process through which the criminal laws are enforced. For example, the law prohibiting murder is a substantive criminal law. The manner in which state enforces this substantive law—through the gathering of evidence and prosecution—is generally considered a procedural matter.
II. History: The first civilizations generally did not distinguish between civil law and criminal law. The first written codes of law were designed by the Sumerians around 2100-2050 BC. Another important early code was the Code Hammurabi, which formed the core of Babylonian law. These early legal codes did not separate penal and civil laws. Of the early criminal laws of Ancient Greece only fragments survive, e.g. those of Solon and Draco.
After the revival of Roman law in the 12th century, sixth-century Roman classifications and jurisprudence provided the foundations of the distinction between criminal and civil law in European law from then until the present time. The first signs of the modern distinction between crimes and civil matters emerged during the Norman invasion of England. The special notion of criminal penalty, at least concerning Europe, arose in Spanish Late Scolasticism, when the theological notion of God's penalty (poena aeterna) that was inflicted solely for a guilty mind, became transfused into canon law first and, finally, to secular criminal law. The development of the state dispensing justice in a court clearly emerged in the eighteenth century when European countries began maintaining police services. From this point, criminal law had formalized the mechanisms for enforcement, which allowed for its development as a discernible entity.
III. Definition Of Crime: Many jurists have defined crime in their own ways some of which are as under:
· Blackstone defined crime as an act committed or omitted in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it.
· Stephen observed a crime is a violation of a right considered in reference to the evil tendency of such violation as regards the community at large.
· Oxford Dictionary defines crime as an act punishable by law as forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare.
IV. Fundamental Elements Of Crime: There are four elements which go to constitute a crime, these are:-
· Human being
· Mens rea or guilty intention
· Actus reus or illegal act or omission
· Injury to another human being
Human Being- The first element requires that the wrongful act must be committed by a human being. In ancient times, when criminal law was largely dominated by the idea of retribution, punishments were inflicted on animals also for the injury caused by them, for example, a pig was burnt in Paris for having devoured a child, a horse was killed for having kicked a man. But now, if an animal causes an injury we hold not the animal liable but its owner liable for such injury.
So the first element of crime is a human being who- must be under the legal obligation to act in a particular manner and should be a fit subject for awarding appropriate punishment.
Section 11 of the Indian Penal Code provides that word ‘person’ includes a company or association or body of persons whether incorporated or not. The word ‘person’ includes artificial or juridical persons.
Mens Rea- The second important essential element of a crime is mens rea or evil intent or guilty mind. There can be no crime of any nature without mens rea or an evil mind. Every crime requires a mental element and that is considered as the fundamental principle of criminal liability. The basic requirement of the principle mens rea is that the accused must have been aware of those elements in his act which make the crime with which he is charged.
There is a well known maxim in this regard, i.e. “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which means that, the guilty intention and guilty act together constitute a crime. It comes from the maxim that no person can be punished in a proceeding of criminal nature unless it can be showed that he had a guilty mind.
Actus Reus [Guilty Act Or Omission] - The third essential element of a crime is actus reus. In other words, some overt act or illegal omission must take place in pursuance of the guilty intention. Actus reus is the manifestation of mens rea in the external world. Prof. Kenny was the first writer to use the term ‘actus reus’. He has defined the term thus- “such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent”.
Injury- The fourth requirement of a crime is injury to another person or to the society at large. The injury should be illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property as according to Section 44 of IPC, 1860 the injury denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.
V. Stages Of A Crime If a person commits a crime voluntarily or after preparation the doing of it involves four different stages. In every crime, there is first intention to commit it, secondly, preparation to commit it, thirdly, attempt to commit it and fourthly the accomplishment. The stages can be explained as under-
1. Intention- Intention is the first stage in the commission of an offence and known as mental stage. Intention is the direction of conduct towards the object chosen upon considering the motives which suggest the choice. But the law does not take notice of an intention, mere intention to commit an offence not followed by any act, cannot constitute an offence. The obvious reason for not prosecuting the accused at this stage is that it is very difficult for the prosecution to prove the guilty mind of a person.
2. Preparation- Preparation is the second stage in the commission of a crime. It means to arrange the necessary measures for the commission of the intended criminal act. Intention alone or the intention followed by a preparation is not enough to constitute the crime. Preparation has not been made punishable because in most of the cases the prosecution has failed to prove that the preparations in the question were made for the commission of the particular crime.
If A purchases a pistol and keeps the same in his pocket duly loaded in order to kill his bitter enemy B, but does nothing more. A has not committed any offence as still he is at the stage of preparation and it will be impossible for the prosecution to prove that A was carrying the loaded pistol only for the purpose of killing B.
Preparation When Punishable- Generally, preparation to commit any offence is not punishable but in some exceptional cases preparation is punishable, following are some examples of such exceptional circumstances-
· Preparation to wage war against the Government - Section 122, IPC 1860;
· Preparation to commit depredation on territories of a power at peace with Government of India- Section 126, IPC 1860;
· Preparation to commit dacoity- Section 399, IPC 1860;
· Preparation for counterfeiting of coins or Government stamps- Sections 233-235, S. 255 and S. 257;
· Possessing counterfeit coins, false weight or measurement and forged documents. Mere possession of these is a crime and no possessor can plead that he is still at the stage of preparation- Sections 242, 243, 259, 266 and 474.
3. Attempt- Attempt is the direct movement towards the commission of a crime after the preparation is made. According to English law, a person may be guilty of an attempt to commit an offence if he does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence; and a person will be guilty of attempting to commit an offence even though the facts are such that the commission of the offence is impossible. There are three essentials of an attempt:-
· Guilty intention to commit an offence;
· Some act done towards the commission of the offence;
· The act must fall short of the completed offence.
Attempt Under The Indian Penal Code, 1860- The Indian Penal Code has dealt with attempt in the following four different ways-
· Completed offences and attempts have been dealt with in the same section and same punishment is prescribed for both. Such provisions are contained in Sections 121, 124, 124-A, 125, 130, 131, 152, 153-A, 161, 162, 163, 165, 196, 198, 200, 213, 240, 241, 251, 385, 387, 389, 391, 394, 395, 397, 459 and 460.
· Secondly, attempts to commit offences and commission of specific offences have been dealt with separately and separate punishments have been provided for attempt to commit such offences from those of the offences committed. Examples are- murder is punished under section 302 and attempt to murder to murder under section 307; culpable homicide is punished under section 304 and attempt to commit culpable homicide under section 308; Robbery is punished under section 392 and attempt to commit robbery under section 393.
· Thirdly, attempt to commit suicide is punished under section 309;
· Fourthly, all other cases [where no specific provisions regarding attempt are made] are covered under section 511 which provides that the accused shall be punished with one-half of the longest term of imprisonment provided for the offence or with prescribed fine or with both.
4. Accomplishment Or Completion- The last stage in the commission of an offence is its accomplishment or completion. If the accused succeeds in his attempt to commit the crime, he will be guilty of the complete offence and if his attempt is unsuccessful he will be guilty of an attempt only. For example, A fires at B with the intention to kill him, if B dies, A will be guilty for committing the offence of murder and if B is only injured, it will be a case of attempt to murder.
About the Author Rajib Hassan - Lecturer; Haldia Law College; West Bengal
1. Prof. S.N.Mishra; Indian Penal Code; Central Law Publications, Allahabad, Tenth Edition (September) 2001.
2. K.D. Gaur; A Text Book of The Indian Penal Code, Universal Law Publishing Company Pvt. Limited, New Delhi, Third Edition 2004
3. O.P. Srivastava; Principles of Criminal Law, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, Fifth Edition, 2010
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org