General Exceptions: Accident

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general exception of accident

Criminal Law consists of mens rea and actus rea, where mens reais a guilty mind, actus rea is the guilty act.Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is based on the absence of a mens rea which is necessary for the commission of a crime as it provides for a distinction between an act purposefully done with criminal intent, and an act not committed purposefully with such an intent.

General exceptions can be further classified into two types of defences; excusable and justified defences.

Excusable Defences

As the name suggests, these defences indicate to acts which are excusable under the law which implies that even though the wrongful act took place, there existed no criminal intent. Excusable defences include:

  • Mistake of fact (S. 76 & 79)
  • Accident (S. 80)
  • Infancy (S. 82 & 83)
  • Insanity (S. 84)
  • Intoxication (S. 85 & 86)

Illustration:A is of unsound mind; he does not understand the nature and degree of acts done by him. One day, A attempts to kill B by attacking him; Awill not be guilty of an offence.

Justified Defences

Justified defences on the other hand are wrongful acts which are justified or reasoned due to the circumstances. Justifiable defences include:

  • Judicial Acts (S. 77 & 78)
  • Necessity (S. 81)
  • Consent (S. 87-89 & 92)
  • Communication (S. 93)
  • Trifle Acts (S. 95)
  • Duress (S. 94)
  • Private Defence (S. 96- 106)

Illustration: A and Bare work in the same company; A takesB’s pen without B’s permission. B would not file a complaint for the same as the act if of a trifle nature.

Accident as under Chapter IV

1. 80 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for the general exception of accident. To constitute a crime, there must exist a guilty act i.e. actus rea and guilty mind i.e. mens rea, they both must occur.

2. 80 states, any act done without criminal intent, or with knowledge with proper care and precaution while doing a lawful act in a lawful manner with lawful means, will constitute as an accident, and will not be an offence under the said act.

The ingredients of an accident are:

  • The act must be a misfortune or an accident
  • There must be no criminal intention or knowledge
  • The act must be of a lawful nature or an outcome of a lawful act done by lawful means in a lawful manner
  • Proper care and caution must exist

An accident must be unintentional and unexpected. It implies to a happening out of the ordinary course which no prudent man could predict or anticipate.

Illustration: A is working with a hammer; while working, the head of the hammer flies off and hits B, thereby killing him. Proper care and precaution was taken by A, hence his act will excusable and not an offence.

Case:

State of Orissa v. Khora Ghasi1, the accused killed the victim by shooting an arrow with the bona fide belief that he was shooting a bear who had entered his field to destroy his crops, the death was said to be an accident.

Accident in unlawful act

If an accident occurs while doing an unlawful act, then the act would not be deemed to be an accident but there may be no liability of the harm caused if there is no connection between the harm and the act.

Case:

Jageshwar v. Emperor2 the accused was hitting the victim with his fists and accidently hit the wife of the accused who was holding her 2-month-old child, the blow hit the head of the child which resulted in his death. It was held that even though the child was hit by accident, the act was not lawful, not done by lawful means or in a lawful manner. 

Act done with proper care and caution

In the case of Bupendrasinh A. Chuadasama v. State of Gujarat3, Bupendrasinh, the appellant, who was an armed constable shot his superior, the head constable which resulted in his death. Both the persons were posted in the same platoon at Khampala Dam which was in danger. One evening, the accused noted the victim walking near the tower of the dam at which he aimed his rile and shot the victim. The accused pleaded he was doing his patrolling duty. The Supreme Court refused to give the accused the benefit under S. 80 as the act was not committed with proper care and caution.

Burden of Proof

In order for an accused to avail the benefit under S. 80, proof of no criminal intention or knowledge is of high significance and necessary. The court shall view the case in the absence of certain circumstances, making it a part of S. 105 of the Evidence Act. In the case of K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra4, it had been held that the burden of proof for availing a defence lies upon the accused. The accused needs to satisfy the court that their existed no mens rea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cancontributive negligence be a defence as an accident?

Contributory negligence cannot be a defence to a criminal charge under the exception of accident. In the case of R v. Walker5, the accused was driving a horse buggy without any reins, the victim was walking on the road intoxicated. The accused called out to the victim twice to get him out of the way but the victim did not comply due to his state. The victim was run over by the horse and killed. The accused was held for manslaughter as it was his duty to drive the buggy with proper care and caution even if the other person is negligent.

What is the role of consent in an accident, whether implied or express?

If an accident occurs while doing an act, and there existed consent whether implied of express of the parties for any harm which may occur due to the act, which is unintentional, the accused will not be liable.

In Tunda v. State6, two friends who were fond of wrestling decided to bout, in the act, the deceased was thrown which resulted in the fracture of his skull and death. It was held, there was implied consent and as the act was not intentional, the accused was not held liable.

Why is accident a defence under Chapter IV?

It is necessary for there to exist both a guilty mind and a guilty act for it to constitute as criminal. S. 80 focuses on the absence of mens rea i.e. guilty mind when there is an accident. It exempts a person who has committed an innocent or lawful act in a lawful manner, due to an unforeseeable situation which is a result of an accident or a misfortune.

Should all the ingredients of S.80 be fulfilled to constitute a defence?

Yes, all the ingredients of S. 80 should be fulfilled to constitute a defence. The ingredients are;

a. The act must be a misfortune or an accident

b. There must be no criminal intention or knowledge

c. The act must be of a lawful nature or an outcome of a lawful act done by lawful means in a lawful manner

d. Proper care and caution must exist

even one of the ingredients are not present, the accused will be held liable.

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 

References

1. State of Orissa v. KhoraGhasi,1978 Cri.LJ 1305

2. Jageshwar v. Emperor, AIR 1924 Oudh 228

3. Bupendrasinh A. Chuadasama v. State of Gujarat, 1998 Cri.LJ 57 (S.C.)

4. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962 SC 605

5. R v. Walker, 1 C and P 330

6. Tunda v. State, AIR 1950 All. 95

7. S.N. Misra, Indian Penal Code, 167-179, (20th ED. 2016) Central Law Publications, Allahabad

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