What are the four elements of crime in India?

Dec 8th, 2020 | by  Honey Gagwani



A crime is an unlawful act punishable by the state or any other authority. There is no definition of crime that is universally accepted. Different countries have different criminal laws which govern the crimes. A country’s statutes define “crime” for that country. In India, the general criminal laws are The Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Besides these, there are several other laws for specific offences. 

However, all crimes have four elements in common. They are-

    • Accused Person

    • Mens rea

    • Actus reus

    • Injury

1. Accused person

The first element of crime is a human being. Animals and non-living things are therefore excluded from this. No crime can be committed in the absence of a human being. Instead, a crime is committed as a result of the actions of a person. The person who is accused of committing the crime is called the “accused person.” Section 11 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines person as “any Company or Association or body of persons, whether incorporated or now.” Therefore, the definition of persons includes juridical entity as well. In some cases, there could be more than one accused person for the same offence. A person is expected to act in a particular manner in the society without violating and rules or laws. If he acts against the laws, he is liable to criminal action and punishment. 

Illustration: X’s purse gets stolen while she is at Y’s house. Only Y and his cat were at home. She accuses Y of robbery. Here, Y is the accused person. Also note, Y’s cat cannot be accused as it is an animal. The accused must be a human being.

2. Mens rea

Mens rea is a Latin term which means guilty mind or intention. This is the second and the most important element of crime. It is derived from the Latin legal maxim Actus Non-Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea. It can be divided into two parts – Actus Reus and Mens Rea. It means that no action can be considered guilty if there was no intention behind it. In other words, guilty actions and guilty mind go hand in hand. Mens rea is the mental element of a criminal liability. A person cannot be considered guilty of a crime if it was done without any such intentions. To punish the accused, it needs to be proved that he has a guilty mind.

Illustration: X is supposed to pay Y Rs.10,000/- by Sunday. It is already Tuesday, Y goes to X’s house and asks him for the money. X refuses to pay. Y kicks him in the abdomen and X dies. It turns out, X had a disease which Y could not have known of. Therefore, here there was no intention to kill X.

3. Actus reus

Actus reus is a Latin phrase which means guilty act/offence. It could be a commission or an omission. If the person acts on their evil intention or knowledge, the act, motivated by mens rea is known as actus reus. Actus reus is the physical element of a criminal liability. Proving only actus reus or only mens rea is not enough. There should be concurrence between the two for conviction proceedings. It could be harm against human body or property. 

Illustration: X pushes Y into the river and Y drowns. Actus reus here was committed. X had knowledge that Y cannot swim. Z watches Y drowning and does not offer help. In this case, the omission of the act of helping is actus reus. Z knew Y would drown. 

4. Injury

The fourth element of crime is injury. Injury can be caused to a particular person or to the society at large. If actus reus and mens rea do not cause injury to someone, it is not considered a crime. According to Section 44 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the word injury denotes “any harm caused illegally to any person in body, mind, reputation or property”. 

Nevertheless, there are crimes which do not cause injury. These are known as victimless crimes. 

Illustration: X and Y engage in homosexual acts. Homosexuality in their country is illegal. Therefore, it is a punishable offence. It does not cause harm or injury to any person or the society, either physically or mentally. It is a victimless crime. 


An offence can be recognised as a crime only when the four elements of human being, mens rea, actus reus and injury are present. When mens rea is absent and the injury caused is of grievous nature, the convict(s) are liable to punishment under the respective criminal laws. 



Honey Gagwani

Honey Gagwani

I am that annoying Grammar Nazi everyone hates.

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