Elements of Crime

Elements of crime

Crime is an act or omission of an act which causes harm to the society as a whole and causes disturbance and panic in the society. Such an act is punishable by the criminal laws. Criminal law came exists due to the presence of crime in a country. It provides provisions and rules regarding the criminal activities that take place. Criminal law prescribes definitions of crimes and the punishments relating to it. Generally most legal systems impose criminal liability only when a person performs a prohibited act or incur a forbidden injury with a guilty state of mind. For an act to be declared as criminal there are certain steps that are examined whether they are present or not. The facts that must be ascertained in order to prove criminal Liability are called The Elements of Crime.

There are mainly four elements of crime namely: human being, Mens rea, Actus Reus and injury caused.

1. Human being: The first and foremost element of crime is that the injury must be caused by a human being. Only a human can be made legally bound to act in a judicially appropriate way as laws are only applicable to human. Under Sec. 11 of Indian Penal Code the word person include artificial or judicial person hence they are punishable as well. Animals used to be punished in ancient times now their owners are made liable.

2. Mens Rea: Mens Rea is the most important element to prove a crime has taken place. It means it was the intention of the wrongdoer to purposely/knowing/willing and with proper planning to cause harm to a person, animal or property.

3. Actus reus: It is the guilty Act that follows the guilty intention. An act will only be called a crime if both the elements are present. The guilty intention of person leads them to act in accordance to it and hence it turns into crime.

4. Injury: for a particular crime to take place it necessary for the injury to occur. After having guilty mind and doing the guilty act if the injury does not occur then that crime is not considered as committed.

Mens Rea

It is derived from the maxim “actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit reas” which means “that an act is not guilty unless the mind is not guilty”[1]. The mens rea means some blame worthy mental condition, whether constituted by knowledge or intention or otherwise.[2] It is almost always necessary to prove Mens Rea. It is to be proven that the person accused really had the intention to cause such harm to the other person property and also knows about the consequences of his action. Exception to Mens rea is the “Strict Liability offences” in which punishments are provided even when the act is done without a guilt intention.

Motive is the reason for which the crime, but the law is more concerned with the intention of the accused.  Mens Rea can be different in various crime for instance in murder the Mens Rea in the intention to incur a forbidden result that is to kill the other person whereas in assault cases it is to provide serious bodily harm. In civil law it is not always necessary to prove the mental element. It was held by the SC that Mens Rea is not an essential ingredient for contravention of the provision of a civil act.[3]In few cases such as tort the punishment may increase the scope of liability. Unless a statute clearly or be necessary implication rules out mens rea as a constituent part of the crime, a person should not be found guilty against the criminal law unless he has got a guilty mind.[4]

Actus reus

It is derived from the same maxim and it means the guilty action that follows the guilty mind. Actus Reus is related to the actual work and action that is required for the completion of the crime. Only thinking about killing someone is not murder until action is taken in order to kill the other person. The action alone also cannot be considered as crime. Both mens rea and actus reus works hand in hand. A crime can only take place where both these elements are simultaneously present. In order to find whether these elements are present or not the facts and circumstances of the case is also taken into consideration that what was the intention behind the actions of the accused.

What is intent?

It is the true reason behind a person’s action. It refers to the facts on which a reasonable person acts in any given circumstances. In case of a criminal case, the intent to commit that crime means that the person knew what he was doing is wrong and still did it knowing that the consequences of his actions is futile. It is should not be confused with motive. Intent is the state of mind of the person while doing that crime whereas motive is the reason behind the act. 


In Indian criminal Law, it is considered that certain section of people is not capable of having a guilty intention even if they have committed a prohibited act. And hence lack of guilty intention makes the action not a crime and can be excused. This category includes- person of unsound mind, minor and a person under whose while committing the action was under the influence of alcohol/drugs. These also come under the Chapter –IV ‘General Exceptions’ in IPC including section 76-106. In detail these defences can be classified as:-

1. Insanity: when a person is legally insane and they don’t know what they are doing and have no idea of right or wrong.

2. Involuntary intoxication: Due to the involuntary intoxication when a person loses their ability to distinguish between right or wrong and has does not know what they are doing.

3. Mistake of fact: when a person accidently act assuming that, for a fact, what they are doing is right and does it in good faith. Unlike the mistake of fact the Ignorance of law is not excusable.

4. Crime by a minor: a child of age less than 7 years is completely excusable of any crime. A child who is less than 12 years of age and is not able to distinguish between right or wrong then he is also excused.


1. X, a police officer, while in processes of calming down a mob fires his gun by which a person Y is killed. Here the Actus Reus is present, that is the death of a person but there is no mens rea. The X shot Y without any guilty motive. This situation does not embody all four elements of crime and hence, can’t be termed as a crime.

2. M planned to kill N. He bought a knife in order to do. He made an attempt but failed to actually kill N due to certain reasons. Here all the elements of crime excluding the element injury occurred. Still it cannot be considered as the crime of murder because of the absence of its one true element. It shall only be considered as an attempt.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the basic elements of crime?

Elements of crime are the essentials or requirements that are needed to be fulfilled for a crime to take place. For considering an act by a person as criminal the presence of these elements is necessary. There are mainly four elements of crime namely- Human being, mens rea, actus reus and injury.

Human: In a criminal activity it is necessary for the accused/ wrongdoer to be a human being. If the wrongdoer is an object or an animal then it cannot be considered as crime.

Mens Rea: it is the guilty state of mind that precedes the action. It is very important element. In criminal cases if mens rea is not present the action is not considered as crime. Hence, in proceeding the defence tries to prove the absence of mens rea

Actus Reus: it is the guilty action that follows the guilty mind. It is like putting his thoughts into action. This is the stage where crime becomes punishable. Just having a guilty intention doesn’t constitute a crime, the action in pursuance of the intent is necessary.

Injury: if the action doesn’t succeed and the injury didn’t occur than also it is not a crime. For example, attempt to murder is not the crime of murder; unless the person is actually killed the wrongdoer cannot be punished for murder. Injury must occur for constitution of crime.

2. What is mens rea and actus reus?

Mens rea and Actus Reus are the elements derived from an ancient maxim which means- an act is not guilty unless the mind is not guilty. Mens rea is the intent of committing an act that is prohibited by the laws of land and Actus Reus is the action that is done following such intent.

Both of these elements of crime work simultaneously. The intention of committing a crime is not sufficient unless it is followed by it actual actions regarding that intention. Also just the action of crime without intention of doing it makes it excusable.

Both of these elements have their significance only in cases of criminal liability. In civil obligation mens rea is not significant, the action is sufficient in itself to give rise to the  liability.

3. How can mens rea impact a defence?

In IPC under chapter IV General Exceptions are enumerated which contains conditions when the actions occurs but the person is not in a state that the can have any kid of guilty intention to do it.

Basically in that chapter the section contains conditions in which a prohibited action has taken place but the person doing it cannot possibly have mens Rea i.e., a guilty intent to commit such crime. There are various conditions in which a person is not unable to have mens rea such as when a person is-

a. Of unsound mind

b. Involuntarily intoxicated

c. Minor

d. Working in good faith

e. Bound by their occupation

f. Mistaken by facts etc.

The only trouble is to prove whether or not Mens Rea was present because it is tough to estimate what actually goes on inside the mind of any person. If once proven criminal liability does not arise and the person can be excused for such crime.

Edited by Parul Soni
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


[1] Wikipedia, Mens Rea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_rea#India , 11th March 2019.

[2] State of Gujrat and another v. Acharya D. Pandey and others, 1971 AIR 866.

[3] Chairman, SEBI v. Shiriram Mutual Fund, 2003 46 SCL 571 SAT.

[4] Ravula Hariprasada Rao v. The State, 1951 AIR 204.