This article is written by Mohammad Nazim, a student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Jamia millia Islamia.


Let us think about a very hypothetical situation; one day wake up in the morning and all rules and laws in all over the world abolished then what should happen? Means there will be no government, there will be no authority, there will be no rules for arms regulation. There will be no laws if anyone kill you on the road for money or for fun only. In short we start our life just like animal with lots of destructive technologies. And maximum one to two hours are sufficient for destruction of all human life or with technology destruction of whole earth.

Only because there were no rule for how to live existing of earth may be compromise so that some rules for life is very important. and criminal laws are one among them. Maintenance of peace and order is essential in any society for human beings to live peacefully and without fear of injury to their lives, limbs and property. This is possible only in States where the criminal law is effective and strong enough to deal with the violators of law. In fact, the identity of a State depends on how effective it discharges its primary function of keeping peace in the land by maintaining law and order. People in a State can afford to be without a highly developed system of constitutional law, or property law, but they could ill afford to remain without a system of criminal law. This criminal is the law on which men place their ultimate reliance for protection against all the deepest injuries that human conduct can inflict on individuals and institutions. By the same token, criminal law governs the strongest force that we permit official agencies to bring to bear on individuals. Its promise as an instrument of safety is matched only by its power to destroy (Professor Wechsler).

Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. That means a person cannot be guilty of mind unless physical act and mental element both are present. For crime there must be a wrongful omission with guilty mind. It means mere thinking of any crime or planning of any crime (except crime like arm rebellion) or doing any crime without intension should not proves one`s criminally liable.

For example if an infant playing with a loaded gun and shoot another person here actus reas involve but no mens rea (criminal intention) involve so he or she not liable for crime. And if a was planning for some bad or evil things but he do not do anything, in this case there was bad intention but not any bad act (actus reas) towards completion of that crime, so he was not guilty for any crime.

 Thus, mens rea requires both a will direct to a certain act and knowledge as to the consequences that will follow from a particular act.

English jurist gives the name of mens rea to the volition which is the motive force behind the criminal act. Sometime it should be used to refer to a foresight of the consequences of the act and at other times, to the act per se irrespective of its consequences.

Thus there are three factor for criminal liability

  1. Origin on some mental or body activity
  2. Its cercumstances and 
  3. Its consiquances

These factors are important for criminal liability sometime in normal life we heard about motive of criminal this word is used for find out mental activity or mens reas. And other thing which is important to know about when declare one`s criminally liable is magnitude of offence and character of offence.

Distinction Between Intention and Motive: intention differs from motive and law takes notice of intention only.

  1. There can be no crime of any nature without an evil mind. Every crime requires a mental element. Even in strict or absolute liability some mental element is required.
    Motive though not a sine qua non for bringing the offence home to the accused, is relevant on the question of intention. Motive is something which prompts a man to form an intention. Motive alone is of no moment in the absence of other incriminating circumstances. If evidences of murder are clinching and reliable, conviction can be based even if the motive is not established.
  2. Intention means, to have in mind a fixed purpose to reach a desired objective, so it indicates that a man is consciously shaping his conduct so as to bring about a certain event. Thus, intention is the purpose or design with which an act is done.

    Motive is the emotion which impels a man to do a particular act. But many a murders have been committed without any known or prominent motive.
  3. If intention is criminal, law provides punishment even though the act is done with the best of motive. In Emperor v. Raghu Nath Rai (1892) 15 All 22, a Hindu took away a calf from a Mohammedans house without his knowledge and consent in order to save it from slaughter. The accused was held guilty of theft and rioting although he acted with the best of motive to save the life of the sacred cow.

Motive is relevant only in ascertaining the guilt of the accused as it is directed to the ultimate end, good or bad, which a person hopes to secure. As such motive, object or design of a person should never be confused with his intention.

Distinction Between Knowledge and Intention
According to Sec. 39, IPC, A person is said to cause an effect voluntarily when he causes it by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it. That means a man is presumed to intend the probable consequences of his acts. Sec. 39 takes into account not only intention, but also knowledge and reasonable grounds of belief.

Voluntarily causing an effect embraces:

  1. With intention to cause the effect,
  2. With the knowledge of likelihood of causing the effect, and
  3. Having reason to believe that effect is likely to be caused.

If the doer of an act knows or believes that dangerous result will emerge from his act, he will be said to have acted with the most direct intention to hurt. Knowledge means having mental cognition of a thing or it is the awareness or expectations of the consequences of an act. The main difference between knowledge and intention is that in the former the consequence is not desired whereas in the latter it is desired.

Knowledge denotes a bare state of conscious awareness of certain facts in which the human mind might itself remain supine or inactive whereas intention connotes a conscious state in which mental faculties are roused into activity and summed up into action for the deliberate purpose of being directed towards a particular and specific end which the human mind conceives and perceives before itself (Kesar Singh v. State of Haryana (2008) 15 SCC 753).

Vicarious or Implied Liability

Usually, criminal liability rests upon the person who directly committed the act. But, liability for a crime can reach beyond those directly involved in a criminal act. For example, “felony murder” laws make those involved in a felony that results in a death liable for the death even if they did not “pull the trigger” or otherwise directly cause the victim’s demise (such as the getaway driver who helps accomplices flee a botched armed robbery). 

Strict Liability

In order to convict a person of a crime, the state must usually prove liability in addition to the fact that an act occurred. In other words, in order to prove theft, the state must prove that the defendant took property belonging to another and that the defendant took the property with the intent to deprive the owner of it. But, in the case of a strict liability offense, the prosecution need only prove the person engaged in certain conduct.

Strict liability is the exception in criminal law, not the rule. The rationale for strict liability crimes is that certain acts justify imposing criminal liability regardless of intent. Examples range from public safety offenses (like traffic laws) to offenses involving societal or moral harm (like statutory rape). A person may be convicted of statutory rape even if the victim consented to the sexual contact and, in some states, even if the defendant did not know the victim was underage.

Responsible but Not Liable—Incapacity to Form Criminal Intent

Criminal liability law also recognizes situations in which the person who personally and directly engaged in the criminal act should not be held liable for the crime. Essentially, even though certain people committed a criminal act, they should not be held to account for it. The most obvious example is that of a person who is not guilty of a crime by reason of mental incapacity. Another group exempted from certain criminal liability is minors. The rationale for exempting such individuals from liability is that these people are unable to form the type of intent required to make it fair to hold them to account for the crime.

Possible Penalties

A person found criminally liable by being convicted of a crime may be sentenced to serve time in jail or prison, to pay a fine, or both. In most states, felonies can be punished by a year or more in prison and misdemeanors by less than a year in jail. In addition (or alternatively), the sentencing judge may order the person convicted to undergo drug or alcohol treatment, anger management or other counseling, and/or to abide by terms of probation (such as drug testing). A person convicted of certain sex crimes might be required to register as a sex offender and abide by other terms upon release, such as periodic reporting to local authorities and staying away from schools, playgrounds, and other facilities where children are present.

Criminal Liability Depends on the Crime

The law on criminal liability varies depending on the particular crime charged, the jurisdiction in which the person is charged, and other factors specific to the situation (such as the defendant’s age). For questions about what is required to hold someone liable for a certain crime, check the article on that crime and in the state in question on this site.


For living in a secure society there should be some rules of living that are important. And one who violates those rules which affect whole society intentionally is criminally liable and entitle to punishment according to the consequences of the offence.