Mens rea is a technical term, generally taken to mean some blameworthy mental condition, the absence of which on any particular occasion negatives the condition of crime. It is one of the essential ingredients of criminal liability.’ A criminal offence is committed only when an act, which is forbidden by law, is done voluntarily. The term mens rea has been given to the volition, which is the motive force behind the crinjinal act.2 An act becomes criminal only when it is done with guilty mind. Ordinarily, a crime is not committed, if, the mind of the person doing the act is innocent. There must be some blameworthy condition of mind (mens rea) before a person is made criminally liable. For instance, causing injury to an assailant in private defence is no crime but the moment injury is caused with intent to take revenge, the act becomes criminal. However, the requisite guilty state of mind varies from crime to crime. What is an evil intent for one kind of offence may not be so for another kind. For instance, in the case of murder, it is the intent to cause death; in the case of theft, an intention to steal; in the case of rape, an intention to have forcible sexual connection with a woman without her consent; in the case of receiving stolen property, knowledge that the goods were stolen, and in the case of homicide by rash and negligent act, recklessness or negligence. The underlying principle of the doctrine of mens rea is expressed in the familiar Latin maxim actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea—the act does not make one guilty unless the mind is also guilty. The mere commission of a criminal act (or bringing about the state of affairs that the law provides against) is not enough to constitute a crime, at any rate in the case of the more serious crimes. These generally require, in addition, some element of wrongful intent or other fault. MENS REA
The following illustration is given to enable better understanding of the scope of the principle of mens rea. If A is walking down a crowded street, and if B accidentally steps on his foot, after the momentary anger and irritation, A is likely to graciously accept the word of apology and carry on walking. Even if B were not to offer an apology; as is wont to happen these days, the worst A would do is to mutter under his breath, rub his injured foot if possible, and keep walking. But suppose C who was not exactly in the best of terms with A, or for that matter even if C were a stranger and he walked up to A and stamped his foot deliberately, A is more likely to turn around and abuse him or stamp his foot in return. V/hy is there this difference in A’s reaction? After all, in both the instances, the nature of injury or hurt caused to A is the same— a person stamped his foot. The difference is in the fact that in the first instance, A felt B stamped his foot by mistake without intending to hurt A and hence is innocent. But in the second instance, C deliberately stamped A’s foot clearly, with the intention of hurting A. Hence, the difference in A’s reaction and justifiably so. This is exactly the intention of law when it stipulates that mens rea or guilty intention is the sine qua non of a criminal act and is an essential element of a crime. Just as A’s reaction was different to the person who stamped his foot by mistake and the person who stamped his foot deliberately, the law also differentiates between persons who may have acted innocently or by mistake, and those who have acted consciously with intent to cause harm. If A had turned around and slapped or abused B, who stamped his foot by mistake, one can be sure that friends or the general onlookers would have felt that A’s reaction and behavior was unjustified and that A lacked grace and decency. On the other hand, if A were to do that with C who walked reaction of slapping back or abuse would have been felt to be justified and A’s reaction and retaliation may even be applauded. Similarly,...
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