Mens Rea is a crucial factor in determining whether or not an act is criminal. Mens rea refers to the accused's real motive to commit the offence with which he is convicted. The accused must be found guilty of committing the crime with full knowledge of their conduct and malafide motive against the victim. Mens rea is often used in some civil cases, requiring the defendant to be mindful of the consequences of their conduct in order for civil liability to occur, although in most civil cases, the Actus Reus takes precedence. Furthermore, an act may be intentional or involuntary, and the facts of the case decide the guilt. If a person drives while inebriated and inadvertently harms others, he is still guilty because he chose to drink before driving, even if the offence was accidental. If, on the other hand, a normally safe person has a heart attack while driving and inadvertently causes injury to others, he is not responsible and is not guilty of the offence.
ACTUS REUS AND MENS REA
In law, crime consists of two elements - Actus Reus and Mens Rea.
Actus reus is commonly defined as a criminal act that results of voluntary bodily movement. An activity that harms another person or damages property. Mens Rea is the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused. There might be actus without mens rea. Mens rea requires both a will direct to a certain act and knowledge as to the consequences that will follow from a particular act.
CONCEPT OF MENS REA
Mens rea is an essential part of deciding whether an act is culpable or not. Mens rea displays specific intent by the accused for the commission of the crime for which he is charged. When a law defines a mental condition or a specific offence, the required mental state is normally applied to each aspect of the crime. Furthermore, even though a statute does not mention a mental state, courts will almost often ask the government to show that the defendant was in a guilty state of mind when the crime was committed. For example, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal criminal statutes without a required mental condition "should be read to contain only the mens rea required to distinguish "wrongful from innocent conduct." The offender's level of blameworthiness is commonly used to organise mental states. In general, the severity of the offence relates to the blameworthiness of an actor's mental state. More serious liability and stricter sentencing are usually associated with higher levels of blameworthiness.
Historically, states divided mental states into two categories: crimes requiring "common purpose" and crimes requiring "specific intent." However, most states now use the Model Penal Code's (MPC) four-tiered classification, or the malice distinction, due to the uncertainty about how to define "intent."
4 ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF A CRIME
The four essential elements of a crime are:
1. The crime must be committed by a person
2. There must be hurt or injury caused to another
3. There must exist an Actus Reus
4. There must be a Mens rea to commit the crime, with certain exceptions.
ESSENTIALS OF MENS REA
Mens Rea is constructed from person’s motive and intention. Motive and intention are two separate ideas. Motive is the reason behind the act whereas intention is a person’s state of mind and willingness to break the law. Presence of both Motive and Intention facilitates the prosecution of a crime but motive is not a necessary element for conviction. Intention is more important than motive. It is a subjective fact which is required by the criminal law by the prosecution.
MENS REA AS A DEFENCE
Mens Rea can be used by the defence to prove that there was no guilty mind involved in their actions. Basically, wrongdoer does not have Mens Rea. The conditions in which a person is not in a state to make a decision what is right and what is not are, when that person is: -
• Of unsound mind
• Involuntarily intoxicated
• Working in good faith
• Bound by their occupation
• Mistaken by facts.
IGNORANTIA JURIS NON EXCUSAT
In certain cases, an illegal act may have been committed. But the accused may be excused, if it is done under the mistake of fact. Ignorantia facti excusat is the legal principal which means ignorance of fact is an excuse but Mistakes of Law are not excused.
MENS REA – A NECESSARY INGREDIENT OF CRIME
Having Mens Rea mean having the guilty intention to commit an act. Person who did not had any intention to cause harm to any person or didn’t had the knowledge about the consequences of his actions should not be made criminally liable for that act. It is also laid down by a judgment by the Apex Court that Mens Rea is considered as in important ingredient of crime.
INTENTION AND MOTIVE
Motive is something which prompts a man to form an intention. In other words, it is ulterior intention; while intention is immediate mental condition. Intention relates to means whereas motive relates to the end. Motive though not a sine qua non for bringing the offence home to the accused, is relevant on the question of intention. Motive is basically a clue to the intention.
THE MPC AND MENS REA
For various mens rea, most states use the MPC’s classification. The MPC classifies and organises culpable mental states into four categories:
1. acting with intent – the defendant’s actions were motivated by a deliberate goal.
2. behaving intentionally – the defendant is almost assured that his actions will result in a specific outcome.
3. knowingly disregarding a significant and unjustified risk – The defendant knowingly disregarded a substantial and unjustified risk.
4. Negligently acting – The defendant was not aware of the danger, but should have been aware of it.
As a result, a crime committed on intent will be punished more harshly than if the defendant behaved intentionally, recklessly, or negligently. The MPC had a significant effect on a number of states criminal codes, and it continues to have an impact on the discussion of mens rea.
Some have added a fifth state of mind to the MPC classification: “strict liability.” Strict liability offences do not necessitate a guilty mindset. Any investigation into a defendant’s mental state is satisfied simply by the fact that he or she committed the crime. This lack of a guilty mind would be the fifth, and least blameworthy, of the mental states that could exist. It is necessary for the prosecutor to prove that the defendant committed the wrongful act in a strict liability case, regardless of the defendant’s mental state. As a result, a guilty state of mind is unimportant in a strict liability case. Possession and statutory rape are common examples of strict liability offences in criminal law. Many critics have criticised the use of strict liability to prosecute defendants due to a lack of mens rea.
DISTINCTION FOR MALICE
The MPC solution is opposed by a small number of governments. Instead, they use two degrees of intent to determine the acceptable degree of responsibility for those who commit crimes.
1. Intentional malice – committing a crime with the intention of causing injury to the victim.
2. Implied malice – apathy toward potential injury to a victim as a result of the defendant’s carelessness or inattention.
With some exceptions, the four basic elements of a crime are: (1) the crime must be committed by an individual, (2) there must be harm or injury to another, (3) there must be an Actus Reus, and (4) there must be a Mens rea to commit the crime.
OBJECTIVE OF MENS REA
The object of the law is to punish a person with a guilty mind. It does not want to put behind bars an innocent person who may have the misfortune of being involved in an incident and event, which he did not have the intention of participating in. The existence of the guilty mind or mens rea at the time of the commission of actus reus or the act alone will make the act an offence.
SOME LANDMARK CASE LAWS
Foreign case related to it:
R. vs. Prince (1875 LR 2 CCR 154)
R. vs. Tolson (1889 23 QBD 168)
R. vs. Wheat and Stock (1921) 2 KB 119)
Hari Prasad Rao vs. State (AIR 1951 SC 204).
Nathulal vs. State of M.P. (AIR 1966 SC 43).
Malhan K.A. vs. Kora Bibi Kutti (1996 SCC 281).
Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab (1956 AIR 541)
Author - Kiran Israni