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Actus reus and Mens rea

BY-M. Sahithi

(Gitam school of law)


Actus reus which means "guilty act" and mens rea which means possessing a "guilty mind." The reasoning behind the law is that it is unethical for society to punish those who innocently cause harm. Such legal maxims are important components of crime.In order to know these terms in detail, we should first know what crime is and what are the elements of crime?

What is crime?

Crime has been described as an act or omission that is forbidden and punishable by the State or by any lawful authority. Crime is considered by law to be dangerous to society in general, even if its direct victim is an individual.

Every crime is in violation of the law, but every violation of the law is not a crime.

Elements of crime

There are mainly four elements which constitute a crime.

● Human being

● Mens rea

● Actus reus

● Injury

Mens rea

Any person with a guilty mind should be convicted, which is the main purpose of criminal law. Mens rea is a state of mind that is ultimately related to the motive of the Guilty.Crime is not committed if the mind of the person performing the act is innocent. Mens Rea is not specified under the IPC, but its meaning is expressed in almost all the provisions of the IPC. Many of the IPC crimes are introducing the concept of Mens Rea in one or another.


Alex slipped and fell as he walked. He lost his balance when he dropped and dragged Beth down with him. Beth struck his head against the wall, injured his head and died.

Here is the question.

Is that Alex Guilty?

Here Alex's goal isn't to take Beth away, so Alex isn't a Guilty.

Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens sit Rea.

The conduct does not make one guilty unless the mind is also guilty.The unlawful act must be followed by a guilty conscience. Therefore, in order to punish the defendant, it must be proven that the criminal act has been carried out with criminal intent.

Factors of mens rea

● Intention

● Knowledge

● Recklessness

● Negligence

Intention:One of the most significant elements of the crime is mens rea, i.e. the intention to do wrongdoing. State of mind at the time of the commission of the crime and the will of the accused to see the consequences of his unlawful actions.

Example: In Hyam vs. DPP, (1975) Act 55.

"D" To scare Mrs. Booth placed a burning newspaper in the mailbox of Booth's home. The fire spread and two children died. "D" was not intended to kill, but expected death or bodily harm as a highly probable outcome. So D is guilty because she knew the outcome of her actions.

Knowledge:Awareness of the consequences of the Act. Getting knowledge of the consequence Act is an essential state of mind and is, therefore, part of the Mens Rea, hence the IPC uses the word knowledge in various parts.

Example Sec 307 of the IPC deals with the crime of attempted murder in this section that used "knowledge" instead of "mens rea."

This section itself provides that motive or information is on an equal basis with the Guilty Mind.

In omprakash vs Punjab, AIR 1961 SC

The defendant had stabbed his wife for a few days before the court held that he was responsible for the attempted murder because the crime had to be performed with the motive or knowledge needed of the crime for the offense of murder.

Recklessness: It is the state of mind of a person who foresees the future consequences of his actions, but acts without any intention or willingness to do so.

Eg: If I throw a stone in the middle of the crowd, I am irresponsible in my actions, even though I have no intention or purpose to cause injury to a particular person.

Negligence: Is the other type of a person guilty of negligence a state of criminal liability. Negligence does not take responsibility where there is an obligation to take responsibility for it where there is an obligation to take care of it. In other words, a person is negligent when he fails to exercise due care and caution when conducting an act of law.

In Ashraf vs state of kerala The 14-year-old boy died because of electrical wire set by the defendant for catching fish may have been charged under section 304 because here the death was caused by negligent acts suggesting an unlawful act.

Exceptions to Mens Rea:

Strict liability: While there is no guilty mind, the individual is held responsible for the act. Such duties are created only by specific laws. Such crimes are against public health under which some strict or absolute liability is enforced, under the example, the Essential Commodities Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Consumer Protection Act, etc.

Public Nuisances:The exception to the doctrine of mens rea is public nuisance. Strict liability must be placed in the name of public health. If a person causes public nuisance with a guilty mind or without a guilty mind, he must be punished.

Ignorantia of law no excuse: Ignorance of law is no excuse. Everybody is expected to know the law of land. Nearly all legal systems follow the concept of ignorantia juris non excusat. It is an undeniable assumption that every person knows the law of the land.

Actus reus

Actus reus is the actions of the criminal defendant. It may be an act of commission or an act of omission, and it must be a voluntary act which causes harm or damage. This may also be a "situation" that can be an act of commission or an act of omission.

Eg:A want to kill B. A shoots B, B dies.By the voluntary Act of A.

The actus reus of every crime is different. The features of the actus reus in the description of an offense which does not refer to the state of mind of the defendant

The easy way to classify the actus reus of the criminal offense is to exclude from the description of the crime Mens rea elements that refer to the defendant's state of mind.

The actus reus of an offense may involve

● An act or omission (conduct)

● Existence of surrounding circumstances(the act itself is not criminal, but the circumstance is.)

● The occurrence of result of consequences and cause(the actus reus requires a result)

In order to determine the guilt of the defendant, the prosecutor must prove that any aspect of the actus reus is not established, that the actus reus can not be identified and that there is no criminal liability.

There are two components of the act.

The first component is bodily movement.

Eg: In R vs Hayward (1908)

The defendant chased his wife out of the house, making threats against her that she had fallen and died because he had not physically touched her. She was suffering from a rare thyroid disease that could lead to her death; they were not aware of this disease, and it was held that the defendant was responsible for involuntary manslaughter because his wrongful conduct and the assault caused her death.

Bodily movement must be voluntary.

In Bratty vs A-G for Northern Ireland (1961)

The appellant strangled and killed a young woman while giving her lift; he then dumped her body on the side of the road and drove home. Appellant was the friend of the family of the deceased. Due to some health problems, he was not conscious of his actions.

It held No act was punishable if it is done involuntarily.


Alternatively, the need for an actus reus can also be fulfilled by an omission. It is only valid when the person had a duty to act and failed to act.

Example: – A mother purposefully refuses to feed her child, leading to the death of the child.The mother may be charged legally with causing the death of the child through neglect and may also be charged with murder if her intention to kill her child can be proven in court.


● The actus reus must be voluntary by the defendant

● Automatism

Difference between actus reus and mens reus

The main difference is that, in the absence of Mens rea, it is difficult to prove criminal liability. On the other hand, in the absence of Actus Reus, if mens rea is present and proved, then criminal liability is created and, as a result, he or she will be found guilty.

Eg: If a person, A, causes B to kill Y, in such a situation, even though A did not kill, but he would be held guilty, as he had mens rea.


Mens rea and actus rea together

The Latin Maxim, actus reus nisi mens sit rea together implies that the act itself does not constitute a crime unless it is performed with a guilty intention.

These two components must be combined to constitute a crime unless as discussed above, the act is statutorily deemed to be triable without criminal intent.


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[DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only. We have tried to include as much information as possible but there are chances that some important information may have been missed .It is NOT to be substituted for legal advice or taken as legal advice. The publishers of the this article shall not be liable for any act or omission based on this note].

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