Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code consists of general exceptions namely from section 76 to 106 in a total of 31 Sections. These sections consist of reasons that an accused can plead to claim immunity from punishment prescribed for the offenses of which he is charged. According to Kenny, ‘General exceptions are conditions for exemption from criminal responsibility.
Furthermore, these exceptions can be divided into 2 broad categories:
- Lack of Mens Rea.
- Act Committed either by reason of a mistake of fact, or by reason of the act being done accidentally, or by reason of infancy, insanity, and so on.
- By reason of Necessity
- An act committed under legal justification like that of the Right of private defense
Whereas the burden of proving an exception to criminal liability lies on the accused he is entitled to prove the circumstances entitling him to the general exception to criminal liability.
MISTAKE OF FACT (SECTION 76 & 79)
Under Section 76: Act is done by a person bound or by mistake of fact believing, himself to be bound by law is included. Nothing is an offense which is done by a person who is or by reason of a mistake of fact, not by mistake of law in good faith believes himself, to be, bound by law to do such act.
This means nothing is an offense if he who by reason of a mistake of fact believes under good faith to be bound by law to do it. The concept of which is derived from the legal maxim “ignorantia facti doth excusat, ignorantia juris non excusat”.
A, an officer of a court, being ordered by the court to arrest Y and after due inquiry, believing Z to be Y arrests Z. A has committed no offense.
Under Section 79: Act is done by a person justified or by mistake of fact believing, himself justified, by law is included. Nothing is an offense which is done by any person who is justified by law, or who by reason of a mistake of fact and not the mistake of law in good faith, believes himself to be justified by law, in doing that particular act.
This means nothing is an offense that is done by a person who believes himself to be in a good faith and justified by law.
Example- X thought Y to be an intruder and in a good faith and justified by law presented Y to the authority, X has not committed an offense.
Case law- In Emperor v. Jagmohan Thukral, AIR 1947 AII 99, the accused under a bona fide mistake shot an object thinking him to be an animal, and the mistake was held to be one made in good faith. The accused while traveling from Saharanpur to Dehradun near Mohand pass picked up the loaded gun when he saw the eyes of an animal and fired at it which unfortunately hit two military officers. There was nothing to show that the accused knew that there was a military camp or that any military exercise was going on. The court held that the accused was protected by section 79 observing: ‘If he mistook something else like an animal, then section 79 penal code comes to his rescue’.
ACCIDENT (SECTION 80)
Includes an Accident committed while doing a lawful act. Nothing is an offense which is done by accident or misfortune, without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution.
Example – If suppose A tries to hit a bird with an arrow but unfortunately the arrow hits a tree and a branch falls over B causing harm to B, then, A will not be liable.
INFANCY (SECTION 82 & 83)
Under section 82- Act of a child under seven years of age. Nothing is an offense, which is done by a child under seven years of age. The reason for this is the principle of ‘doli incapax’, a child below the age of seven cannot be held guilty for any offense because of the assumption that he cannot draw a distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It works under the assumption that a child below seven lacks the ability to understand the nature and consequences of his act and therefore cannot form the required Mens Rea.
Example- X a child below seven years of age, pressed the trigger of the gun and caused the death of Y, then, the child will not be liable.
Under section 83- Act of a child above seven and under twelve of immature understanding.—Nothing is an offense which is done by a child above seven years of age and under twelve, who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge of the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion. This is based on the principle of “doli capax”; that is; a child between 7 to 12 years is capable of understanding the nature and consequences of his act. However, in order to hold a child liable, the prosecution needs to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt that the element of ‘mens rea’ was present along with the actus reus.
The maturity or understanding of the child can be inferred from the circumstances involving the crime and is different in different cases.
Example- X a child of 10 years killed his father with a gun in the shadow of immaturity; he will not be liable if he has not attained maturity. But Y a child of 8 years who has enough maturity and understanding of the consequences, can be held liable
UNSOUNDNESS OF MIND (SECTION 84)
Nothing is an offence that is done by a person who at that time of performing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.
Law contained in this section is based on maxims such as “Furiosus furor sub puniter & Furiosus nuile voluntas”, Which means A mad man is punished by his madness only and a mad man is the one who is absent.
Example- X, who is insane or unsound, killed Y with a knife, thinking it to be a fun game, will not be liable for Y’s death as he was not aware of the nature of the act and law. He was incapable of thinking judiciously.
Case law- In Ashiruddin Ahmad v. King, AIR 1949 Cal 182, the Calcutta High Court allowed the defense of insanity on the ground that the accused had sacrificed his son of five years while acting under the delusion of a dream, believing it to be right. The accused had dreamt that he was commanded by someone in paradise to sacrifice his son of five years. The next morning the accused took his son to a mosque and killed him by thrusting a knife in his throat and then went straight to our uncle, but finding a chowkidar, took the uncle nearby a tank and told him the story. The Supreme Court opined that the accused can claim the defense as even though he knew the nature of the act, he did not know what was wrong.
INTOXICATION (SECTION 85 & 86)
Under Section 85- Act of a person incapable of judgment by reason of intoxication caused against his will. Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who at the time of doing it, is, by reason of intoxication, incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law, provided that the thing which intoxicated him was administered involuntarily without his will or knowledge.
This means nothing is an offence, which is done by a person at the time of intoxication provided that the thing which intoxicated him was administered to him without his knowledge or against his will. Such a state of mind is termed Dementia Offectatia, a form of lunacy in which the function of the mind is temporarily suspended.
Example- X drank alcohol given by a friend thinking it to be a cold drink. He became intoxicated and hit a person driving his car back home. He will not be liable as alcohol was administered to him without his will and knowledge.
Under Section 86- Offence requiring a particular intent or knowledge committed by one who is intoxicated. This applies to cases where an act done is not an offense unless done with a piece of particular knowledge or intent, a person who does the actin state of intoxication shall be liable to be dealt with as if he had the same knowledge as he would have had if he had not been intoxicated.
In cases of section 86 only knowledge (and not the intention) of the offense on his part will be presumed.
Example- A and B, two friends together consume an intoxicant. Being intoxicated A begins to believe that a wild beast has attacked him and under this delusion kills B. Here A is liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder because he was voluntarily intoxicated and voluntary intoxication is an excuse only as regards intention but is no excuse for offenses requiring knowledge.