Act in furtherance of guilty intent

Act in furtherance of guilty intent

Actus reus :

The word actus connotes a ‘deed’, a physical result of human conduct.  The word reus means ‘forbidden by law’.  The word actus reus, may therefore, be defined as ‘such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent.  The actus reus is made up of three constituent parts namely,

  • Human action which is usually termed as ‘conduct’.
  • The result of such act in the specified circumstances, which is designated as ‘injury’, and
  • Such act is prohibited by law.

i) Human action :

In other words, an act means something voluntarily done by a human being for example, giving a blow, walking, speaking or any external manifestation of one’s mind.  Broadly speaking, human action includes acts of commission as well as acts of omission.  For the purpose of fixing criminal liability, an act may be enlarged as consisting of three parts.

  1. its origin in some mental or bodily activity or passivity of the doer, that is a willed movement or omission.
  2. its circumstances, and
  3. its consequences.

ii) Result of conduct :

            There must always be a result brought about by human conduct, a physical event, which the law prohibits.  Actus reus in the result of a human conduct and is an event.  A well known definition of actus reus is ‘such result of human conduct as the law seeks to prevent’.  The different types of offence have been designated ‘result crimes’ and ‘conduct crimes’ respectively.  In the ‘result crimes’ the law is interested only in the result and not in the conduct of the accused.  The law is no less interested in the conduct which brigns about the result in a ‘result crimes’, than in a ‘conduct crimes’.  Whether or not the conduct results in harm is generally a matter of chance and does not alter the blame worthiness and dangerousness of the actor.  However an event is distinguishable from the conduct that produces the result.  In other words, a crime is constituted by the event and not by the activity which causes the event.  Once the desired act is accomplished, the actus reus of the crime is complete.  If the desired result is not achieved, the person is not responsible for the criminal act.

iii) Acts prohibited by law :

Only those acts that the law has chosen to forbid are crimes.  An act responsible it may be, is not a crime unless prohibited by law.  No crime is committed when a soldier in a battle field shoots an enemy.  The act being authroised by law, the killing is not the actus reus of crime, for there is a lawful justification for it.  No crime is committed when a person exercising his lawful right of private defence causes harm to another.

The term ‘actus reus’ has been given a wider meaning by Prof. Glanville Williams in his book ‘criminal law’.  He : explained the term ‘actus reus’ as follows:

‘When we use the technical term actus reus, we include all the external circumstances and consequences specified in the rule of law as constituting the forbidden situation.  Reus must be taken, as indicating the situation specified in the actus reus as on that, given any necessary mental element, is forbidden by law.  In other words, actus reus menas the whole definition of the crime with the exception of the mental element – and it even includes a mental element in so far as that is contained in the definition of an act.  This meaning of actus reus follows inevitably from the proposition that all the constituents of a crime are either actus reus or mens rea’.

Actus reus includes negative as well as positive elements.  The requirements of actus reus varies depending on the definition of the crime.  Actus reus may be with reference to place, fact, time, person, consent, the state of mind of the victim, possession or even more preparation.

Causation in crime :

An event is very often the result of a number of factors.  A factor is said to have caused a particular event, if, without that factor, the event would not have happened.  Thus, a man is said to have caused the actus reus of a crime if, that actus would not have occurred without his participation in what was done.  A man will usually be held criminally liable only for such consequences of his conduct as he foresaw.

The act must be the causa causans, i.e., the immediate cause of the effect.   When the facts are direct and simple, then establishing the direct nexus between the act and the effect may not be difficult.  The causation can also be without any direct physical act.  The difficulty arises only in cases of multiple causation, where it is difficult to establish the imputability.

Causation and Negligence :

The difficulty of causation arises very often in cases of negligence.  It has to be established that first, the conduct of the person was negligent and secondly, that but for the negligent act of the accused, the accident would not have occurred.  The actus reus should be casually connected to the act which should be moved to be negligent.

Principle of Reasonable Foresight :

A man is said to intend the natural consequences of his act.  The principle of foresight is just a restatement of that principle.

Act to be voluntary :

Act means a conscious movement.  It is a conduct, which results from the operation of the will.  It is only voluntary act, that amount to an offence.  If a person is compelled by the circumstances to do an act, then again he will not be liable for his act.

Voluntarily :

Section 39 defines the term ‘voluntarily’.  The term shows that a person need not intend to cause the actual effect caused in order to be held to have voluntarily caused such an effect.  If the effect is the probable consequence of the act done by him, then he is said to have caused it voluntarily.  If the particular effect could have been avoided by due exercise of reasonable care and caution, then the effect of such negligent act is also said to have been ‘voluntarily’ caused.  The question whether the effect of a particular act was caused voluntarily, is a question of fact, to be determined on the basis of the facts and circumstances of each case.

Unexpected interventions :

Unexpected interventions or twists in the acts, which cause the result, can create complication while fixing causation.  However, the culpability is clear, the more fact that there were unexpected interventions or twists, cannot exonorate the person from criminal liability.  It may have effect on the degree or gravity of culpability, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

Intervention of an innocent person :

A person will be held fully responsible if he had made use of an innocent agent to commit a crime.

Intervention of another person :

In cases, where another person has intervened and the later’s action was the immediate and direct cause of the crime, the original wrongdoer whose acts had merely given rise to the occasion of the act of the criminal, will be obsolved from liability.  But there should be clear evidence to show that the first man’s act had no direct bearing on the result.

Contributory Negligence :

Though contributory negligence is not a factor which can be taken into consideration on the question of the guilt of the accused, it can be a factor for consideration in determination of sentence.  Occasionally the contributory fault of the victim may be so great that the defendants act is held not to be the imputable cause of the harm.