To begin, let us look at some sentences that define crime.
An action committed or omitted, which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law is a crime. Crime is an unlawful act that is forbidden and punished by the State or the law. In other words, anything which is injurious to public welfare is a crime.
Generally speaking, crime is human conduct that the society generally disapproves. But in the modern sense, crime is any act that is prohibited by the penal law in force, and the result of this is punishment.
In this law note, definitions by various jurists have been mentioned. Along with this, essential elements that constitute a crime are also given below.
Definition of Crime According to Renowned Jurists
- According to Bentham, “offences are whatever the legislature has prohibited for good or for bad reasons.”
- According to Austin, “a wrong which is pursued at the discretion of the injured party and his representatives is a civil injury; a wrong which is pursued by the sovereign or his subordinates is a crime.”
- According to Paul W. Tappen, “an intentional act or omission in the violation of criminal law, without justification and sanctioned by the law as felony or misdemeanour.”
- Blackstone has defined crime in his “Commentaries on The Laws of England”. He defined it as “an act committed or omitted in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it.” He also defined crime as “violation of the public rights and duties due to the whole community, considered as a community, in its social aggregate capacity”. The editor of Blackstone, Stephen, has done slight changes in the definition and presented it as “a crime is a violation of a right, considered in reference to the evil tendency of such violation as regards the community at large.”
- According to Stephen, “crime is an act forbidden by law and which is at the same time revolting to the moral sentiments of the society.”
- According to Kenny, “crimes are wrongs whose sanction is punitive and is in no way remissible by any private person; but is remissible by crown alone, if remissible at law.” (Here, the word ‘sanction’ means punishment and the word ‘remissible’ means to pardon by a crown.)
- According to Keeton, “a crime would seem to be any undesirable act which the State finds it most convenient to correct by the institution of proceedings for the infliction of a penalty, instead of leaving the remedy to the discretion of some inured person.”
- According to Miller, crime is “to be the commission or omission of an act which the law forbids or commands under pain of a punishment to be imposed by the State by a proceeding in its own name.”
- According to Paton, “the normal marks of a crime are that the State has the power to control the procedure, to remit the penalty or to inflict the punishment.”
From the above definitions, it can be said that there is no constant definition of the crime. Each jurist has defined the crime differently according to his views and opinions. Also, due to the varying nature of the content of crime, all efforts to define crime with perfection have failed.
- According to Terence Morris, “crime is not absolute like sin, that can be defined and have an existence beyond the limits of what men may say and do. It is essentially a relative definition of behaviour that is constantly undergoing change.“
Essential Elements of Crime
The main elements that make up a crime are:
- A human being
- Evil intent or guilty mind from the part of a human being. (Mens rea)
- Any act committed or omitted in accordance with the evil intent and is forbidden by law. (Actus reus)
1. Human Being
The first element of a crime is a human being. Any wrongful act to be called crime must be done by a human being. There must be a human being under a legal obligation to act in a particular way, and it must also be capable of being punished.
2. Mens Rea
The second essential element of a crime is mens rea or guilty mind or evil intent. Mens rea refers to the mental element that is necessary for a particular crime. Any wrongful act committed by a human being cannot be called a crime if committed without evil intent. There must be an evil intent while doing an act.
There is a well-known maxim– ‘Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea‘. It means ‘the act itself does not make a man guilty unless his intentions were so.’ From this maxim there came another maxim- ‘actus me invito factus non est mens actus’ which means ‘an act done by me against my will is not my act at all.’
3. Actus Reus
The third element of the crime is actus reus. The criminal intent to be punishable must be obvious in some voluntary act or omission. As per Kenny, ‘actus reus’ is such a result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent. The act committed must be the one that is forbidden or is punished by the law.
An act includes omissions also. A man is also held liable if some duty is imposed upon him by law, and he omits to discharge that duty. An omission must be a breach of a legal duty.
Injury is the last important, or we can say the essential element of a crime. It must be caused illegally to another human being or a body of individuals or society at large. ‘Injury’ has been defined in section 44 of the Indian Penal Code as ‘any harm whatever illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.’
However, there can be some crimes that may not cause any injury to anybody. For example, if you drive a vehicle without a driving license, it is a crime, even if it does not cause any injury to someone.