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 on 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. How the state enforces this substantive law—through the gathering of evidence and prosecution—is generally considered a procedural matter.
Fundamental Elements Of Crime
There are four elements which go to constitute a crime, these are:-
- 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 the 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 shown 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’. Thus, he has defined the term “such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent”.
- Injury- The fourth requirement of a crime is an injury to another person or the society at large. The injury should be illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation, or property. According to Section 44 of IPC, 1860 the injury denotes any harm illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation, or property.
Stages of Crime
- Intention- Intention is the first stage in the commission of an offence and known as the mental stage. The 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.
- 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 preparation is not enough to constitute the crime. Preparation has not been made punishable because in most cases, the prosecution has failed to prove that the preparations in the question were made for the commission of the particular crime.
- 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 any 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 has done towards the commission of the offence;
- The act must fall short of the completed offence.
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 to kill him, if B dies, A will be guilty of committing the offence of murder and if B is only injured, it will be a case of an attempt to murder.