The crime’s commission travels through four distinct and successive stages. They are:
- Intention to commit it,
- The preparations for the commission of the crime,
- The attempt to commit it, and
- A successful third stage results in the execution of the planned crime.
The first two stages of committing a crime are rarely punishable under criminal law, as the mere intention is outside the clout of criminal liability. Correspondingly, merely preparing to commit a crime is not punishable since there is no way to prove that the accused is ready with the same evil intention to commit the crime.
Please note that preparation does not always give immunity against criminal liability. There are a few serious preparations that are punishable under the IPC. They are:
- Under section 122 IPC, preparations for waging war against the Government of India,
- Under section 126 IPC, preparations for committing depredations on territories,
- Under sections 233 to 235, 242, 243, 259, 266 IPC, possessing, making or selling or receiving instruments for counterfeiting coins or government stamps, and
- Under section 399 IPC, preparation for committing dacoity.
However, the third stage, i.e., the attempt to commit a crime, is a stepping stone towards the commission of a crime after preparation. An attempt to commit a crime is a step forward in the direction of committing the intended offence. The third stage, i.e., attempt, comprises an evil intention of the accused along with preparation to commit the crime. Thus, an attempt to commit a crime is punishable under criminal law in India.
Meaning of Attempt Under IPC
A person commits the offence of “attempt” when:
- He intends to commit that offence, and
- Having made preparations for committing the crime, the offender commits the crime.
In Koppula Venkat Rao vs the State of A.P (2004), the Supreme Court explained,
An attempt to commit an offence is when an act or series of acts lead to the commission of the offence unless something unanticipated or unintended happens to stop it.
In his definition, Sir James Stephen explains that attempt is an act intended to commit that crime and is a part of a series of acts that would constitute it if the crime were not interrupted.
In a nutshell, we can explain it as an act or a series of acts that lead to the commission of an offence, unless something the perpetrator never intended prevents it. The act of attempting to commit a crime is a positive step toward committing it.
In the Indian Penal Code, 1860, criminal attempts are treated in four different ways. These are:
- The attempt to commit offences under section 511 of IPC.
- Criminal attempts to commit crimes punishable by death, such as murder, culpable homicide, and robbery.
- Attempt to commit suicide.
- Committing offences against the state, its head of government, sedition, etc.
Is Attempt Punishable as Per Law in India?
Yes, an attempt to commit a crime is punishable under criminal law. This is because it is more than simply intending to commit the crime and preparing to commit it; but is an act that furthers the evil intention towards committing the crime after preparation. Attempting to commit a crime is no less dangerous than committing the crime successfully.
Test to Differentiate Between Preparation and Attempt
The Indian Judiciary, by its various rulings, gave some tests to make a distinction between preparation and attempt. It is always a debatable topic at which stage preparation comes to an end and attempt begins. The Supreme Court answered the question in Abhayanand Mishra vs the State of Bihar (1961). In this case, the accused were charged for cheating because he gave a forged certificate for the M.A. exam in Patna University. The accused contended that his action was only at the preparation stage and not an attempt to cheat. The Supreme Court decided that when the accused submitted his application for consideration by the university, he had entered the realm of attempted cheating. After this, the Supreme Court, in various judgements, divided preparation from attempt through some of these tests.
1. The Proximity Test
The proximity test evaluates how close the defendant was to committing that offence. Under this test, an act comprises an attempt if the accused has completed all or almost all important steps towards the commission of the crime but falls short of the consequences desired.
In the State of Maharashtra vs Mohammad Yakub (1980), the Supreme Court (Justice Chinnappa Reddy) about the proximity rule observed that to constitute ‘an attempt’, – first, there must be an intention to commit a particular offence; second, for an offence to be committed there must have been some act committed towards it; and third, such act must be proximate to the intended result. The measure of proximity is not about time and action but the intention to commit a crime.
2. The Doctrine of Locus Poenitentiae
The Doctrine of Locus Poenitentiae describes the possibility that a person might, after preparing to commit an offence, change their minds or be compelled by some emotion.
In Malkiat Singh vs the State of Punjab (1968), the accused were driving a truck containing 75 bags of paddy. Under the Punjab Paddy (Export Control) Order 1959, the police arrested the accused for attempting to export paddy. In the Supreme Court, the accused argued his act was merely an attempt to commit a crime and not a crime in itself. The Supreme Court accepted the accused’s point of view and ruled that their acts were still at the stage of preparation. The court observed that the police arrested the accused 14 miles before the Delhi-Punjab border. It is conceivable that the accused may have been cautioned that they had no permit to carry the paddy, and they may have changed their minds at any time before crossing the border.
3. The Equivocality Test
For an act to be an attempt to commit an offence, it must show that it has been done unequivocally (in a way that leaves no doubt) to accomplish the criminal aim. The steps or actions taken by the defendant must be self-evident.
In the State vs Parasmal (1968), the Rajasthan High Court discussed the test of equivocality and observed that whenever a person has the intention to commit a particular crime, he conducts himself in a manner that shows his intent to do so. Then if he acts in pursuit of that intention in a way that might help him achieve that intention, it could be argued that he committed the crime of attempting to commit a particular crime.
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