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Motive Intention and knowledge (IPC)

Updated: May 13

Motive Intention and knowledge (IPC)
Motive Intention and knowledge (IPC)


Mens rea and Motive

Motive serves as the driving force behind forming an intention, representing an ulterior intention, while intention denotes the immediate mental state.

Intention pertains to the means employed, whereas motive pertains to the desired end result. While motive is not always necessary to establish the guilt of the accused, it provides insight into their intention.  

Clear evidence of motive can bolster the court's determination of guilt, but the absence of clear proof of motive does not necessarily imply innocence. Offences may occur without a clear motive, just as a strong motive may not always lead to criminal behaviour.

It's important to note that having a pure motive does not absolve an individual of criminal liability. Even if an act is done with the best of intentions, if the intention is criminal, the law still imposes punishment.

Motive cannot serve as the sole criterion for determining criminality. In cases with direct evidence against the accused, motive becomes irrelevant. However, in cases relying on circumstantial evidence, the absence of motive may benefit the accused.

Generally, in criminal law, motive is considered irrelevant, with intention being the primary focus.

For instance, in the case of Emperor v Raghu Nath Rai (1892) 15 All 22, a Hindu took a calf from a Mohammedan's house without consent to save it from slaughter. Despite the noble motive, the accused was found guilty of theft and rioting.

Nevertheless, motive gains relevance in specific scenarios. In criminal attempts, motive renders an otherwise non-wrongful act wrongful.

Additionally, motive becomes pertinent when a specific intention is integral to the definition of a criminal offence. In civil liability cases such as defamation and malicious prosecution, motive assumes significance.


Motive and  Intention 

Motive refers to the underlying emotion or desire that drives a person to perform a certain action. It is the feeling that prompts the will into action.

For instance, in a murder case, while the intention directs the act causing death, the motive is the desired outcome, such as malice or revenge.

On the other hand, intention is the deliberate purpose behind an overt act. It signifies a conscious effort to achieve a specific objective. Intention combines desire with foresight of consequences.

For example, a person intending to kill another throws them in front of a moving train, foreseeing that this action is likely to cause death.

In criminal liability, motive serves as a clue to the intention but is not inherently relevant to determining guilt. Even if a person's motive is good, if their intention is wrongful, they can still be held criminally liable.

However, motive may be considered in determining the severity of punishment or under certain provisions of the Indian Evidence Act.

In terms of aim, motive pertains to the ultimate object behind the intention, while intention relates to the immediate objective. Motive deals with the end goal, whereas intention deals with the means to achieve it.

In contrast, intention is crucial in establishing criminal liability. Every crime necessitates a mental element, and even in cases of strict liability, some level of mental intent is required.

The principle "actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea" underscores the importance of a guilty mind accompanying the act.

For instance, if a person inadvertently drops a child from a burning building, resulting in the child's death, and had no intention to harm them, they may not be guilty of any offence.

Knowledge and Intention

According to Sec. 39, IPC, “A person is said to cause an effect voluntarily when he causes it by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.

That means a man is presumed to intend the probable consequences of his acts. Sec. 39 takes into account not only ‘intention’, but also ‘knowledge’ and ‘reasonable grounds of belief.’

When a person performs an act knowing or believing that a harmful outcome will result, they are considered to have acted with the most direct intention to cause harm. 'Knowledge' refers to being mentally aware of certain facts or anticipating the consequences of an action.

The key distinction between 'knowledge' and 'intention' lies in the desire for the consequence: in the former, the consequence is not desired, whereas in the latter, it is.

Therefore, 'knowledge' involves foresight of consequences without the accompanying desire. Nevertheless, like intention, knowledge is an immediate objective.

Knowledge signifies a state of conscious awareness, where the mind may remain passive, while intention involves a conscious state where mental faculties are actively engaged to achieve a specific end.

Thus, voluntary intoxication is not a valid defence for a crime requiring only knowledge, as opposed to intention. If a person, due to intoxication, lacks the mental capacity for intention at the time of the crime, they cannot be held responsible.

However, if they were not severely intoxicated and still possessed knowledge of the events, they can be presumed to intend the natural consequences of their actions.

Voluntarily causing an effect encompasses three scenarios: 

(a) acting with the intention to cause the effect, 

(b) acting with the knowledge of the likelihood of causing the effect, and 

(c) having reason to believe that the effect is likely to occur.

In the case of Basdev v State of Pepsu (AIR 1956 SC 448), the court noted that intention and knowledge often overlap and can be presumed from each other. While the line between intention and knowledge may be thin, they signify different concepts.

It is crucial to recognize that knowledge, like intention, is relevant in determining criminal liability. However, crimes committed with intention are typically considered more serious, as seen in Section 304 Part one, whereas those committed with knowledge are less severe, as in Section 304 Part two.


Leading Case Law

  1. In the leading case of Nathuni Yadav v State of Bihar (AIR 1997 SC 1808), the Supreme Court made significant observations regarding the role of motive in criminal cases. The case involved the murder of 'A's wife and the injury caused to 'A' by the appellants, driven by resentment over 'A' gifting his landed property to his wife.

The Supreme Court noted that establishing a motive for a criminal act is often challenging for the prosecution, as motives are typically internal and not readily observable. While it's generally accepted that every criminal act is motivated by something, it's not necessary for the prosecution to prove the motive explicitly.

Lord Chief Justice Champbell's caution in Reg v Palmer (1856) emphasised that even minor motives can lead to serious crimes, highlighting the complexity of human behaviour.

Furthermore, the court emphasised that motive is a psychological aspect, and the failure of the prosecution to provide evidence of the accused's mental disposition doesn't necessarily mean it didn't exist.

In some cases, the established motive may seem weak, but this alone cannot discredit the prosecution's case. The Supreme Court also provided insights from other cases regarding the significance of motive:

  • When there are missing links but a strong motive, the conviction may not be sustainable.

  • Motive alone is not decisive in the absence of other incriminating evidence.

  • In cases of circumstantial evidence, motive gains importance compared to cases with direct evidence. 

  • Motive should be inferred from the circumstances available on record, and the intention to cause death is drawn from these circumstances.

  • When the accused's participation is established by eyewitness testimony, the absence of motive becomes insignificant and cannot justify acquittal.

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