Aman Sharma

Concept of Mens Rea in Criminology

This article is written by Aman Sharma, a Third Year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) Student at Ideal Institute of Management and Technology (GGSIPU), Delhi.

What is Mens Rea

The term Mens Rea is derived from Latin word ‘Actus Non Facit Reum, Nisi Mens Sit Rea’ i.e. the act itself is not a crime unless it is accompanied by the guilty mind. The term Mens Rea is basically the state of the mind which is forbidden by the law.

Kinds of Mens Rea:

The four elements which combine together to accumulate Mens Rea are:

1. Intention: It is basically the highest degree of Mens Rea as there is always the presence of the knowledge with the presence of the intention.

The same can be explained with the help of an illustration: The wife was having an affair with her lover and the husband directly confronted the lover. After heated arguments the husband killed the lover with the pistol. So this shows intention on the part of the husband.

Intention can be classified as :

A. General Intent: The general intent crimes require the suspect to have the intention to commit a prohibited act. Just one factor is required to prove general intent crime i.e. ‘associated act which constitutes the crime’. To prove the general intent the prosecution ought to demonstrate that the suspect had acted on purpose. Some of the basic examples of the general intent are: rape, battery, false imprisonments and the kidnapping.

B. Specific Intent: Specific Intent crimes require the state of the mind of the suspect at the time of the commission of the crime. Specific intent not only requires an unlawful act but it always requires additional subjective intent or an objective. So, the prosecution must prove that the suspect had acted with an intent to achieve a specific act with an intent to commit that crime. Some of the basic examples are conspiracy, attempt, assault and burglary.

2. Knowledge:

It is the second highest degree of the Mens Rea. In the knowledge a person acts purposely so that his conduct will result with a certain consequence. In other words, a person is aware that his conduct will cause a specific result.

Illustration: A was at the national park to shoot the bird with the gun, he had the knowledge that anyone can get killed by his attempt to kill them so he had the knowledge, so A accidentally kills B while intending to kill the bird.

3. Recklessness:

It is basically the narrow definition of the intention as it is difficult to show that an invidual has the thirst to attain intended consequences of his/her actions. Recklessness signifies a state of being mentally indifferent to the obvious risk. It is of higher degree than the negligence because there is a certain risk for which the individual decides to remain indifferent.

Illustration: A was driving the car recklessly. He knows anyone can be hit by the car so this shows the element of recklessness in the Mens Rea.

4. Negligence:

This is the lowest degree of the Mens Rea. The definition of the term negligence in the criminal context is the same as in the law of the torts. When there is a required degree of the due care or the caution and the individual lacks in the aspect of the care and precaution, so it is termed to be behaving as negligently.

Illustration: Medical negligence is the best example of the Mens Rea in which the doctor has to follow the certain protocols and the procedures in order to maintain due care while performing the operation. If he doesn’t follow due procedure and protocol then he will be liable for the negligence.

Motive and Intention

The motive basically prompts the man to form an intention. For example a thief has a motive to steal money for his survival and basic needs. So he performs an act with the intention to steal, (Intention relates to the means to achieve the specific goals or the objective which is required to be performed at a particular time.)

Why is Motive so Important?

If direct evidence is presented by the prosecution that this person has committed the crime or not, then the element of the motive is not so important.

But only when circumstantial evidence exists i.e. no direct evidence can be produced by the prosecution to prove the guilt of an individual to prove his offence and commission of crime, then the element of the motive plays a very important role in order to establish the intention of the person regarding what was his mindset at the particular time.

The presence of the element of Motive supports the prosecution case. However the absence of the motive doesn’t weaken it.

When Mens Rea is not Required

Mens rea is not required in the following situations:

1. Ignorance of Law is not an excuse: I did not know the law is not an excuse i.e. ignorantia juris non excusat cannot be used as an excuse. It is basically presumed that everyone basically knows the law of land. There is an irrebuttable presumption that every person knows the law of the land.

2. The Public Nuisance- Public Nuisance is defined in Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code [1]under Section 268. It is an unreasonable interference with the right to the common or the general public.. Public nuisance must cause the injury, obstruction or the annoyance to the general public

3. Strict Liability– The principle of Strict Liability is an exception to the general rule of negligence. The general rule is that the person is liable for his own negligent acts and when he is able to prove that he was not negligent then he will be not liable. So, the general principle is not applicable in the cases where the defendant deals with the hazardous substances.

Case : Nathu Lal v. State of M. P[2]

The accused was a food grain dealer and he had applied for the license for which he deposited the requisite license fees to obtain the license. He purchased the food grains and sent the returns to the Licensing authority. The Licensing authority checked that the food grains were in excess of the quantity permitted under Section 7 of the Madhya Pradesh Food Grains Dealers Licensing Order 1958. The accused was prosecuted but was later acquitted on the ground that he had no guilty mind i.e. absence of Mens Rea.

Case : Sankaran Sukumaran vs. Krishnan Saraswathi[3]

The Apex Court held that Mens Rea is an essential ingredient of the offence under Section 494 (Bigamy). If a second marriage was entered in a bona fide belief that the first marriage ceased to subsiste then no offence under Section 494 has been committed.


Mens Rea is an essential ingredient of the criminal offence. Having Mens Rea means the person has the intention to harm another person so he will be liable for the punishment. If the person does not have the Mens Rea i.e. does not know about the effects of his actions so he will not be liable. If his act falls in the exceptions of Mens Rea then he will be punished and there will be no scope for Mens Rea. In the court’s rules the concept of Mens Rea has been developing for a long time. 

[1] 1860

[2] AIR 1966 SC 43, 1966 CriLJ 71

[3] 1984 CrLJ 317