An act does not make anyone guilty unless there is a criminal intent or a guilty mind. In simple words, for any act to be illegal in nature, it must be done with a guilty mind.
To be guilty of a crime, two elements are considered i.e. a guilty act and a guilty state of mind. Without a criminal intent or guilty mind, there is no crime. There must be a criminal intention along with an unlawful act. For committing a crime, the intention and the act both are to be taken intoconsideration.
The two basic elements of criminal law are ActusReus and Mens Rea. Actus Reus is the wrongful or unlawful act committed and Mens Rea is the guilty state of mind. The Latin maxim states that a person is guilty of a criminal act only if such act is accompanied by a criminal intent. Severepenal actions are required for crimes committed with specific intent and not for unprecedented acts. Hence, this maxim is used to differentiate between intentional and unintentional criminal act to decide the quantum of punishment.
“A” commits a motor vehicle accident leading to the death of “B”. A shall be charged with murder if he had the intention of causing death of “B”. Without a guilty mind or intention, the act would be considered an accident or negligence on part of the accused.
Also, a person who is suffering from unsoundness of mind or involuntary intoxication cannot be said to have committed a crime as he would not know the repercussion of his act.
In State of Rajasthan vs Shera Ram, it was held that “for committing a crime, the intention and act both are taken to be the constituents of the crime, actus non facit reum nisi menssit rea. Every normal and prudent human being is expected to be responsible for his/her conduct and acts unless the contrary is proven. But a person of unsound mind or a person suffering from a mental disorder cannot be said to possess this basic norm of human behaviour.”
In Gajraj Singh vs State of Rajasthan, it was held that, Section 84 of Indian Penal Code, encapsulates the fundamental maxim of criminal law, i.e., actus non reum facitnisi mens sit rea. To constitute an offence, the intent and act must be in unison.
In Brend v. Wood, it was held by the Lord Goddard, C.J. that:- “It is of the utmost importance for the protection of the liberty of the subject that a court should always bear in mind that, unless a statute, either clearly or by necessary implication, rules out mens rea as a constituent part of a crime, the court should not find a man guilty of an offence against the criminal law unless he has a guilty mind.”