Often people perform acts that have a criminal nature, that is considered wrong by law. To this only one understanding crosses the mind, that any person who commits such an act should be punished the same way all perpetrators in the past of this were penalised. What we fail to understand is that each crime has a different intent behind it, surely that does not change the fact that a wrong has been committed but why it was committed and with what intention in mind.
Understanding what is ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea?’
‘Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ is a Latin phrase stated in the Indian Evidence Act,1872, that translates to, “An act does not make anyone guilty unless there is a criminal intent or a guilty mind.” This maxim presents that any illegal act that has been committed must be committed with the intent of doing so. The mere act does not solely constitute the crime but the understood intention of committing it does.
This does not mean that a legally proven wrong without intent will go unpunished but that it will decide the degree of the punishment received according to the situation that presented itself leading to this.
For a deeper understanding, it is necessary to understand the background of this i.e., how this came to be. It is composed of two maxims: Actus Reus and Mens Rea. Actus Reus means the wrongful or unlawful act that was committed while Mens Rea is the intention behind committing this act.
Hypothetical situation to understand Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea
Let us say that A and B are neighbours and A has signs that read “trespassers will be penalised”. One day B mistakenly enters into the lawn of A since there no no fence diving their land and plucks plants that are A’s. Now B unintentionally committed a trespass on A’s land and hence cannot be punished as severely if we are to say that B entered the land of A on purpose with the intent of damaging his garden and ignoring the signs put up by A.
In both these situations B is seen in two different lights and his intentions are nowhere near similar. In both situations, a wrong has been committed but that does not require the severity of the situation to be equal.
A Case that has dealt with this maxim:
“Criminal guilt would attach to a man for violations of criminal law,” was stated in R. Balakrishna Pillai v. State of Kerala. However, the Latin maxim, actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea, states that the rule is subject to limitations and is not absolute. It demonstrates that a guilty mind cannot commit a crime. It must be demonstrated that a person’s behaviour led to an illegal act and that the behaviour was accompanied by a legally culpable mindset to hold them criminally responsible. As a result, every crime has a physical and a mental component, commonly referred to as actus reus and mens rea, respectively.
An Exception case to this maxim:
“We do not accept the argument that the prosecution must prove that the person who sells or keeps for sale any obscene object knows that it is obscene before he can be adjudged guilty,” the Supreme Court stated in the case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra. As a result, the mens rea is not regarded as being as significant as the acted upon. On the off chance that the individual is found having disgusting material in his control, he will be responsible under sec 292 of IPC. His expectation or information about the disgusting material need not be demonstrated.
The maxim of ‘Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ says that a person is not guilty of a crime unless they intended to commit it in the first place. Several times people unknowingly commit illegal wrongs which should in no way go unpunished but the severity of which should be determined by the person’s intentions. Some cases may remain exceptions to this, while some may set precedents as we see above.