Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea

From Advocatespedia, ASSN: 142378
Jump to navigation Jump to search


An act does not make anyone guilty unless there is a criminal intent or guilty mind.


Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea is a Latin maxim. There are two basic components of criminal law namely, Actus Reus and Mens Rea. Actus Reus is the wrongful act committed and Mens Rea is the state of mind behind such commission of the act. This Latin maxim is derived from Mens Rea.


The said maxim is plays a vital role in deciding whether a person is guilty or not. It emphasizes on the fact that a person cannot be guilty if the act is not accompanied by criminal intent. If there is just Actus Reus and no Mens Rea it won’t constitute a crime. In other words, the act itself does not make a man guilty, unless his intention is so. There must be a vicious will or criminal intention as well as an unlawful act. Section 14 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states facts which indicate state of mind or intention are relevant facts in issue. This maxim has its own exceptions. Breach of law cannot be left unpunished and hence this maxim is established to distinguish between intentional and unintentional criminal act so that the quantum of punishment can be decided accordingly. The doctrine that Mens Rea is an essential ingredient in every offence, has three recognized exceptions: (i) cases not criminal in real sense but which in the public interest are prohibited under a penalty; (ii) public nuisance; and (iii) cases criminal in form but which are really only a summary mode of enforcing a civil right.< Union of India v. Ganesh Das Bhojraj, (2000) 9 SCC 461> In cases of Strict Liability, the condition of the mind is not necessarily examined. The defendant would be guilty irrespective of the absence of Mens Rea. In his History of the Criminal Law (1883), James Stephen wrote: "The maxim is sometimes said to be a fundamental principle of the whole criminal law, but I think that, like many other Latin sentences supposed to form part of the Roman law, the maxim not only looks more instructive than it really is, but suggests fallacies which it does not precisely state. It is frequently, though ignorantly, supposed to mean that there cannot be such a thing as legal guilt where there is no moral guilt, which is obviously untrue, as there is always a possibility of a conflict between law and morals."


If a person does an act without the intention or the capacity to have such intent he is said to be not guilty, for example, an insane person. If a person injures someone on the road with his/her vehicle, then with the presence of intention of hurting the victim, that defendant would be charged for murder otherwise negligence. A minor is also protected because of his mental condition. He is not considered to be in a condition to distinguish between right and wrong hence, deemed to be innocent.


In the case of Brend v. Wood,< [1946] 175 LT 306> Lord Goddard, C.J. held that:- “It is of the utmost importance for the protection of the liberty of the subject that a court should always bear in mind that, unless a statute, either clearly or by necessary implication, rules out mens rea as a constituent part of a crime, the court should not find a man guilty of an offence against the criminal law unless he has a guilty mind.”

Also in the case of Capt. Abdul Sattar Ahmed Pagarkar v. R.H. Mendsonsa, Commissioner of Police <2003 CriLJ 3790>, the maxim Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea was explored. It stated that the intention behind the acts is to be understood. In the present case all the offences which were in question needed existence of an intention to commit an offence with dishonesty. These have to be dishonest intention of causing wrongful loss to the person aggrieved and wrongful gain to person who is to be the target of the investigation.

In R. Balakrishna Pillai v. State of Kerala <Criminal Appeal No. 372 of 2001>, it was observed that “Criminal guilt would attach to a man for violations of criminal law. However, the rule is not absolute and is subject to limitations indicated in the Latin maxim, actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea. It signifies that there can be no crime without a guilty mind. To make a person criminally accountable, it must be proved that an act, which is forbidden by law, has been caused by his conduct, and that the conduct was accompanied by a legally blameworthy attitude of mind. Thus, there are two components of every crime, a physical element and a mental element, usually called actus reus and mens rea respectively.”

In Fowler v. Padget <(1798) 101 ER 1103 (1798)>, it was stated that "It is a principle of natural justice, and of our law, that actus facit reum nisi mens sit rea. The intent and the Act must both concur to constitute the crime."However in the case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra <1965 AIR 881>, the Supreme Court had held that “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].” Thus the Mens Rea is not considered as important as the act committed. If the person is found having obscene material in his possession then he will be liable under sec 292 of IPC. His intention or knowledge about the obscene material need not be proved. It was held in Sheralli Wali Mohammed v. State of Maharastra <AIR 1972 SC 2443, 1972 CriLJ 1523>, If it raises a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court whether the accused had the mens rea required for the offence, accused would be entitled to the benefit of doubt. In such an event, prosecution must be taken to have failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.