This article on “Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea” by Sahajpreet Bhusari explains the meaning of the Latin maxim along with illustrations a d case laws.
Origin and Meaning
Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea is a legal maxim of Latin origin. Let’s look at a breakdown of the term in order to understand the meaning. Actus means ‘act or action’, non facit means ‘does not’, reum means ‘guilty’, nisi mens sit rea means ‘unless there is presence of guilty mind’.
Hence the term literally means, an act alone cannot make a person guilty unless there is presence of a guilty mind.
It means that for any act to be illegal in nature, the act must be done with a guilty mind or intention. It is essential to note that mere commission of the act without the criminal intent to do so does not constitute an offence. Therefore, if the illegal act is committed without any intention to do it, the wrongdoer cannot be convicted.
Since there are different punishments for various crimes, the maxim plays a major role so in determining the quantum of punishment for the offence.
Crime is comprised of two components, actus reus and mens rea. The maxim ‘Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea’ is derived from the component of mens rea. It explains the application of mens rea in criminal matters.
- A, a patient of mental disorder committed a road accident which led to the death of B, another person driving on the same road. A will not be said to have committed an offence because he was a mental patient and hence, there is absence of guilty mind.
- If A hurts B with the intention to cause hurt, it is crime. On the other hand if A attacks B as private defense, he will not be held to have committed an offence. In the first case, there was presence of guilty mind/ intention but in the latter one intention is missing.
Important Case Laws
In the case of Brend v. Wood, the court held that until and unless the court explicitly states out mens rea or guilty mind as the constituent of crime, any person should not be held guilty of an offence until there is presence of mens rea.
However, there are certain exceptions to the theory. In the case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that if the person is found to have any obscene object, it need not be proved that the person had the knowledge of the same.
 (1946) 175 LT 306.
 1965 AIR 881.