Every crime involves two parts:
- The physical act of the crime which is actus reus i.e. a guilty act.
- The mental intent to do the crime which is mens rea i.e. a guilty mind.
Mens Rea refers to criminal intent or a guilty mind. In general, it refers to the state of mind statutorily required in order to convict a particular defendant of a particular crime. In criminal law, establishing the mens rea of an offender is necessary to prove his/her guilt. The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offense with a culpable state of mind. The defendant must possess a guilty state of mind and must be conscious of the “facts that make his conduct fit the definition of the offense.”
Let us imagine two scenarios of an accident
A killed a pedestrian without noticing that there was a person until it was too late. Although he tried his best to brake, he could not stop the accident and ended up killing the pedestrian. In this case, A is liable, only for monetary damages, since it was not his intention to kill him and it was involuntary.
On the other hand, B killed a pedestrian even though he noticed that there was a person, he did not even try to apply brakes and slammed into him, killing him instantly. In this case, B criminally liable since he intended to kill the pedestrian
In People’s Union for Civil vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that “It is the cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence that mens rea element is necessary to constitute a crime. It is the general rule that a penal statute presupposes mens rea element. It will be excluded only if the legislature expressly postulates otherwise.”
In the State Of Maharashtra vs Mayer Hans George, the Supreme Court of India held that “There are statutes and regulations in which Parliament has seen fit to create offenses and make people responsible before criminal Courts although there is an absence of mens rea, it is certainly not the Court’s duty to be acute to find that mens rea is not a constituent part of a crime.”