Literal Translation

A Defendant's Mental State


This maxim refers to the state of mind of the defendant who is proved to be having ulterior motives when having committed a crime. Mens réa is defined in a statute which establishes the crime or sets a precedent from time to time. The teaching of Mens rea was applied in India by courts, now that mens rea is the most important component of an offence, as firmly settled by law. In addition, the offenses resulting from the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, Drug Acts and Weights and Measurements Act are prohibited without any evidence of guilt and the criminal shall not be liable for the offense without the proof of any guilty knowledge or intention, as it also decided by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Sarjoo Prasad v/s State of U.P


R.S. Joshi vs. Ajit Mills Ltd.,1977 AIR 2279, 1978 SCR (1) 338 We can reject the notion that a penalty or punishment cannot be imposed in the form of an absolute or no-fault liability but must be preceded first by mens rea . The classical view that 'no mens rea, no crime' has long since been eroded and several laws in India and abroad, particularly with regard to economic crimes and departmental penalties, have created severe penalties even where the offenses were defined to exclude mens rea. Thus, the claim that Section 37(1) fastens a heavy liability irrespective of fault has no force to deprive the forfeiture of the character of the penalty.

Case Law

Imagine two riders who end up hitting a pedestrian and killing him. Driver 1 never saw him, so he could not avoid the crash until he was too late and eventually killed the pedestrian. He tried his best, but he could not avert the damage. Driver 1 is liable for punishment for his offense but not as a criminal.

On the other hand, Driver 2, had been out searching for the pedestrian and seeing him, steering towards him, pressing the gas pedal, killing him immediately. Driver 2 is likely to be criminally liable because he intended to kill the pedestrian, or at least to cause severe bodily harm. 

Here even though the pedestrian is killed in both scenarios both the driver’s intent are very different and as a result they shall be tried differently. Driver 1 shall be treated as a civilian but Driver 2 shall be treated as a criminal since he intended to cause bodily harm or death to the civilian on the pedestrian.

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