The Four Stages of Crime under the Indian Penal Code, 1860: A Detailed Analysis

Four Stages Of Crime Under IPC, 1860: IPC Notes - Prolawctor

 The Four Stages of Crime under the Indian Penal Code, 1860: A Detailed Analysis


The Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, provides a comprehensive legal framework for defining and penalizing criminal activities in India. One of the fundamental concepts in criminal law is understanding the stages of a crime, which is crucial for determining criminal liability and the extent of punishment. The IPC categorizes the progression of criminal acts into four distinct stages: intention, preparation, attempt, and commission. This article delves into each of these stages, illustrating their legal implications and nuances with relevant case laws and examples.

1. Intention to Commit Crime

Definition and Importance

Intention is the foundational stage in the commission of any crime. It represents the mental state of an individual who resolves to commit a criminal act. In legal terms, intention is the deliberate aim or purpose to achieve a specific unlawful outcome. This mental determination is crucial as it sets the direction for subsequent actions that lead to the commission of a crime.

Legal Perspectives

Under the IPC, mere intention or contemplation of a crime is not punishable. The rationale is that thoughts, without any overt act, do not harm society and thus should not attract criminal liability. However, intention is considered punishable when it is accompanied by some express words or actions that indicate a clear resolve to commit a crime. For example, Section 503 of the IPC deals with criminal intimidation, where mere threats with intent to cause alarm can attract legal consequences.

Case Law: Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018)

This landmark case, although primarily dealing with the decriminalization of homosexuality, also touches upon the aspect of intention. The Supreme Court of India ruled that mere intention or sexual orientation, which is a natural phenomenon, cannot be criminalized unless it translates into an overt act that causes harm or poses a threat to society.

2. Preparation to Commit Crime

Definition and Scope

After the stage of intention comes preparation, which involves arranging the means and measures necessary to carry out the criminal intention. Preparation signifies that the individual has moved beyond mere contemplation and is now actively organizing resources and devising a plan to commit the crime.

General Rule and Exceptions

As a general rule, the IPC does not punish the stage of preparation. The principle behind this is that preparation alone does not result in any direct harm to society and allows room for the individual to repent and abandon the criminal plan (locus poenitentiae). However, there are significant exceptions where preparation is punishable due to the severe nature of the intended crimes. These exceptions include:

  • Waging War Against the Government of India (Section 122): Preparation for war-like activities against the state is a grave offense due to its potential threat to national security.
  • Depredations on Territories of Allied Powers (Section 126): Preparation for committing acts of violence or plunder in territories allied with India is punishable.
  • Counterfeiting Coins or Government Stamps (Sections 233-235 and 257): Making or possessing instruments for counterfeiting currency or government stamps is punishable due to its implications on economic stability.
  • Preparation to Commit Dacoity (Section 399): Gathering resources and planning to commit dacoity (armed robbery by a gang) is punishable due to the high risk of harm to individuals and property.

Case Law: Abhayanand Mishra vs. State of Bihar (1961)

In this case, the accused was found guilty of attempting to cheat by applying for an M.A. examination without possessing the necessary qualifications. The court held that preparation, when combined with a clear intent and an act towards the commission of the crime, constitutes an attempt and is thus punishable.

3. Attempt to Commit Crime

Definition and Characteristics

An attempt is the stage where the individual takes direct action towards the execution of the criminal intention after completing the preparatory steps. It represents a clear move beyond preparation and signifies the offender’s commitment to achieving the criminal objective, even if the final act is not completed.

Legal Framework

The IPC treats attempts with significant seriousness due to the clear demonstration of intent and action. The legal framework addresses attempts in four distinct ways:

  1. Completed Offences and Attempts: Some sections treat both completed offenses and attempts with the same severity, reflecting the seriousness of the intent and action. For instance, Sections 121 (Waging War) and 124-A (Sedition) prescribe the same punishment for both attempts and completed acts.
  2. Separate Punishments for Attempt and Commission: Other sections provide distinct punishments for attempts and the actual commission of offenses. For example, Section 302 deals with murder, while Section 307 addresses the attempt to murder, prescribing separate punishments for each.
  3. Specific Attempts: Certain specific acts, such as the attempt to commit suicide (Section 309), are explicitly addressed and penalized under the IPC.
  4. General Provision for Attempts: Section 511 of the IPC covers all other attempts not specifically mentioned elsewhere, providing that the accused shall be punished with up to half the maximum term of imprisonment or the prescribed fine for the offense.

The Concept of Impossible Attempt

Definition and Conditions

An impossible attempt occurs when the individual intends to commit a crime, performs all necessary actions towards its completion, but the crime cannot be completed due to factual or legal impossibilities. The IPC addresses this concept under the broader category of attempts.

Physical and Legal Impossibility

  • Physical Impossibility: This arises when extraneous circumstances prevent the completion of the crime, despite the individual’s actions. For example, if a person attempts to pickpocket someone whose pocket is empty, the crime is physically impossible to complete, but the individual is still liable for the attempt.
    Eg: A makes an attempt to pick the pocket of Z by thrusting his hand into Z’s pocket. Z is having nothing in his pocket than also A is liable for attempt to commit theft.
    Eg: A person who, believing in witchcraft burns an effigy with the intention of causing him hurt. Here the conduct of accused was not physically capable of completing the offence, so not liable for punishment.
    Eg: A who, with intent to hurt B, prepares a glass filled with poison. Unnoticed by A, C pours away the poison and refills the glass with water which A, in ignorance of what C has done, serves to B. Here A was liable for attempting to cause hurt by administering poison.
  • Legal Impossibility: This occurs when the intended act, even if completed, would not constitute a crime due to a mistaken belief about the law. For instance, if someone takes their own umbrella from a stand, believing it belongs to another person, there is no criminal liability as the act itself is not unlawful.

Aman Kumar and Anr v. State of Haryana AIR 2004 SC 1498: Attempt to commit an offence according to the SC of india, is an act or a series of acts, which leads to commission of the offence, unless something, which the doer of the act neither foresaw nor intended , happens to prevent this.

Case Law: State of Maharashtra vs. Mohd. Yakub (1980)

In this case, the accused were found in possession of silver ingots and other materials near a creek, with clear indications of planning to smuggle them. The court ruled this as an attempt to commit the offense, as significant steps towards its commission were already undertaken.

4. Commission of Crime

Definition and Implications

The commission of a crime represents the final stage where the intended unlawful act is completed, and its consequences materialize. At this stage, the individual is fully liable for the crime committed, and the legal system imposes the prescribed punishment.

Legal Consequences

When a crime reaches the stage of commission, the individual is subject to the full extent of legal penalties outlined in the IPC. The transition from intention to commission involves a clear progression through preparation and attempt, each stage carrying its own legal implications and potential for liability.

Example: ‘X’ intends to kill ‘A’ (intention), purchases a gun, loads it, aims at ‘A’ (preparation), and pulls a trigger (attempts), and the bullet hits ‘A’ killing him(commission). Needless to say, ‘X’ can be held liable for Murder

Case Law: Emperor vs. Vasudeo Balwant Gogte (1932)

In this case, the accused fired shots at the victim, but the attack was unsuccessful due to a defect in the ammunition. The court held that the act constituted an attempt under Section 307 IPC, as the intention and steps towards committing murder were clear. This case illustrates the thin line between attempt and commission, highlighting the importance of intent and action in determining liability.

Case Law: Asagarali Pradhania vs. Emperor (1933)

In this case, the accused gave the complainant harmless substances intending to cause a miscarriage. The court held that since the substances were not capable of causing harm, the accused could not be held liable for attempting to cause a miscarriage. This case highlights the principle of physical impossibility in attempts.

Tests to Determine Preparation vs. Attempt

To differentiate between preparation and attempt, courts use several tests:

  1. Proximity Rule: An act is considered an attempt if it is sufficiently proximate to the completion of the substantive offense. The closer the act is to the final crime, the more likely it is to be deemed an attempt.
  2. Locus Poenitentiae Test (Time for Repentance): If an individual voluntarily abandons the criminal plan before completing the act, it is considered mere preparation. This test allows for repentance and reconsideration.
  3. Impossibility Test: Acts that are impossible to complete cannot be attempted, and hence are not culpable. This test distinguishes between feasible and infeasible criminal acts.
  4. Social Danger Test: The seriousness of the crime and the potential social harm involved are considered. The greater the danger to society, the more likely the act is to be considered an attempt.

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