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1. Introduction

2. Stages of crime

2.1 Intention .. 3

2.2 Preparation .. 3

2.3 Attempt . 4

2.4 Preparation and AttemptThe Thin Line 6

2.5 Accomplishment or Completion 10


3. Bibliography 11



1. Introduction
Ordinarily, a crime is a wrong which affects the security and well being of the public generally so that
the public has an interest in its suppression.
The Indian Penal Code does not define the term crime. In
Halsburys Laws of England, crime is defined as follows: A crime is an unlawful actor default which is an
offence against the public and renders the person guilty of the act or default liable to legal punishment.

Russell in his classic work On Crimes has said that crime is the result of human conduct which the penal
policy of the state seeks to prevent.
The fundamental principle of criminal liability is that there must be
a wrongful act- actus reus, combined with a wrongful intention- mens rea. This principle is embodied in
the maxim, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, meaning an act does not make one guilty unless the mind
is also legally blameworthy. A mere criminal intention not followed by a prohibited act cannot
constitute a crime. Actus reus has been defined as such result of human conduct as the law seeks to
prevent. Mens rea which is a technical term generally taken to mean some blameworthy mental
condition, covers a wide range of mental states, the existence of which would give a criminal hue to
actus reus.
Depending upon the existence of these two constituent elements of crime i.e. mens rea and
actus reus, the commission of a crime is divided into various stages, as discussed below.

2. Stages of Crime
The commission of crime by a person, generally, travels through four distinct and successive stages.
They are:
(i) The formation of the Intention to commit it;

(ii) The Preparations for commission of the contemplated crime;

(iii) The Attempt to commit it; and

(iv) The Commission of the intended crime.

In every crime, there is firstly intention to commit it; secondly, preparation to commit it; thirdly,
attempt to commit it. If the third stage, that is, attempt is successful, then the crime is complete. If the
attempt fails, the crime is not complete but the law punishes the person attempting the act. Generally,
criminal law does not penalize the first two stages, viz, intention and preparation. The third and fourth

P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.12
Halsburys Laws of England, third edn. p 271
J W Cecil Turner, Russel on Crime, vol 1, 12
edn, p 39
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.24
R C Nigam, Law of Crimes in India, 1965, pp 111-112;Asgarali Pradhan v Emperor, AIR 1933 Cal 893; Venkat Rao v
State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 2004 SC 1874


stages, namely, attempt to commit an offence and the actual commission of the offence, are always
punishable. An attempt to commit a crime and the commission of the crime are, thus, perceived as
substantive offences.

2.1 Intention
Intention is the direction of conduct towards the object, chosen upon considering the motive which
suggests the choice.
Intention is a term which is very difficult to define. It is not defined in the Penal
Code. It can be variously said to mean the object, purpose, the ultimate aim or design behind doing an
act. Intention is the conscious exercise of the mental faculties of a person to do an act, for the purpose of
accomplishing or satisfying a purpose
. Intention, therefore, is usually used in relation to the
consequences of an act, and not in relation to the act itself. A person clearly intends a consequence if he
wants that consequence to follow from his action.

2.1.1 Not Punishable - Intention to commit a crime is not punishable under the Indian Penal Code
because it is impossible to read the mind of a man. Even the devil himself knoweth not the thought of man and
so it is absolutely difficult to define contemplation in the mind of a man and to punish him for ideas in
his head.
Further, it is always possible for the person to give up his evil intentions or designs. It is
based on these considerations that a principle of law has come to be evolved, which makes only those
intentions punishable that are accompanied by some express words or overt act aimed towards
achieving the intention.
The law does not take notice of an intention without an act. Mere intention to
commit an offence, not followed by any act, cannot constitute an offence. The will is not to be taken for
the deed, unless there be some external act which shows that progress has been made in the direction of
it, or towards maturing and effecting it. In an attempt to commit an offence, there must be intention to
commit the crime combined with doing of some act adopted to, but falling short of its actual

2.2 Preparation
Preparation consists in devising or arranging means or measures necessary for the commission of an
The stage of preparation, as a general rule, is not punishable.
For, apart from the difficulty of
establishing the intention, it would be impossible in most cases, to establish that the preparation was
actuated by an evil intention, or that it was directed towards achieving a particular wrongful or illegal
act. This is because it is quite possible that the person who originally had the intention to commit an
offence may before actually attempting to commit it, give up or desist from committing it, either due to
fear of the consequences or punishment, or even due to change of heart at the last moment.

Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code, 33
edn, p 1076
Sir James Stephen, A History of Criminal Law of England, Vol 2, pp 100-101
Jai Prakash v Delhi Administration (1991) 2 SCC 32
Sorabjeet Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1983 SC 529
K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4
Edn., p.841
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.177
Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code, 33
edn, p 1077
Maynes Commentaries on the Indian Penal Code quoted in Queen v Peterson, (1876) 1 ILR All 316
Kailash Chandra Pareek v State of Assam, (2003) Cr L J 3514 (Gau)
Hari Singh Gour, Penal Law of India, vol 4, 11
edn, p 4912


Preparation, apart from its motive would generally be a harmless act. It is not the policy of law to create
such offences that in most cases it would be impossible to bring home the culprit or which might lead to
harassment of innocent persons. Further, a mere preparation would not ordinarily affect the sense of
security of the individual intended to be wronged, nor could society be disturbed or its sense of
vengeance aroused by what to all outward appearances would be an innocent act.

2.2.1 Exceptional punishable cases- There are, however, exceptional cases, wherein the contemplated
offence may be so grave that it would be of the utmost importance to stop it at its initial stage and
punish it at the preparatory stage itself. These are preparations to:
(i) Collecting arms, etc. with the intention of waging war against the Government of India (s 122, IPC);

(ii) Committing depredation on territories of power or at peace with the Government of India (s 126,

(iii) Making or selling or being in possession of instruments for counterfeiting coins or Government
stamps (ss 223-235, 257, IPC);

(iv) Possession of counterfeit coin, Government stamp, false weight or measure (ss242, 243, 259 &266,
IPC); and

(v) Making preparation to commit dacoity (s 399, IPC).

2.3 Attempt
2.3.1 Meaning and essential elements- An attempt to commit a crime is essentially a direct movement
towards the commission of the contemplated offence after preparations are made.
An attempt to
commit a crime, observed Sir James Stephen, is an act done with intent to commit that crime, and
forming part of a series of acts which would constitute its actual commission if it were not interrupted.

It is an act which a person does towards the commission of the offence, the commission of the offence
being hindered by circumstances beyond his control. The IPC has not defined the term attempt. The
Supreme Court, in Koppula Venkat Rao v State of Andhra Pradesh,
The word attempt is not defined, and must, therefore, be taken in its ordinary meaning.. An attempt to
commit an offence is an act, or a series of acts, which leads inevitably to the commission of the offence, unless
something which the doer of the act neither foresaw nor intended, happens to prevent this. An attempt may be
described to be an act done in part execution of a criminal design, amounting to more than mere preparation, but
failing short of actual consummation, and, possessing, except for failure to consummate, all the elements of the
substantive crime.

K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4
Edn., p.842
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.178
Sir James Stephen, A Digest of Criminal Law, 9
edn, art 29
AIR 2004 SC 1874


There are three essentials of the offence of attempt to commit an offence that are required to be proved
by the prosecution to secure conviction of the perpetrator. They are:
Firstly, he had an intention or mens rea to commit the contemplated or intended offence,
Secondly, he has done some act or taken a step forward towards the commission of the contemplated
Thirdly, he, for reasons beyond his contemplation or control, failed to commit the intended offence.

An attempt to commit an offence, thus, can be said to begin when the preparations are complete and the
doer commences to do something with the intention of committing the desired offence and which is a
step towards the commission of the offence. The moment he, after making necessary preparations,
commences to do an act with the necessary intention, he commences his attempt to commit the offence.
Such an act need not be the penultimate act towards the commission of the offence.

2.3.2 Why Punishable? A criminal attempt not only poses a threat to bodily and proprietary security
but also infringes the right to security. Such an infringement constitutes, in itself, a harm that penal law
seeks to punish. Hyman Gross, pressing the point, observed:
Attempt may usefully be regarded as a second order harm: in itself it is the sort of conduct that normaly
presents a threat of harm; and that, by itself, is a violation of an interest that concerns law. The interest is one in
security from harm and merely presenting a threat of harm violates that security interest.

An attempt to commit a crime poses no less a danger to the legally protected interests than does the
completed crime.
It therefore becomes necessary for criminal law, in the social interests, to identify
and prevent a criminal attempt at the earliest feasible moment and to, through punitive sanctions, deter
the perpetrator.
2.3.3 Attempt under the Indian Penal Code, 1860- The IPC has dealt with attempt in a specific
and general way. It treats a criminal attempt in four different ways. They are
(1) The commission of an offence and the attempt to commit it are dealt with in the same section
and the extent of punishment prescribed is the same for both. The attempts that fall in this
category are:
i. Offences against the State (ss 121, 124, 124-A, 125, 130);
ii. Abetting mutiny (s 131);
iii. Offences against the public tranquility (ss 152 and 153-A);
iv. Offences against public justice (ss 196, 198, 200 and 213);
v. Offences relating to coins and government stamps (ss 239- 241 and 251);
vi. Offences relating to extortion, robbery and dacoity (ss 385, 387, 389, 391, 397 and 398); and
vii. Criminal trespass (s 460).

Abhayanand Mishra v State of Bihari AIR 1961 SC 1698; Sudhir Kumar Mukherjee v State of West Bengal AIR 1973
SC 2655
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p 184
Hyman Gross, ATheory of Justice, Oxford 1979, p125
Koppula Venkat Rao v State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 2004 SC 1874
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., pp 181- 182


(2) Attempt to commit specific offences are dealt side by side with the offences themselves, but
separately, and separate punishments are provided for the attempts and the offences. The
offences which fall in this category are:
i. Attempt to commit murder (s 307);
ii. Attempt to commit culpable homicide not amounting to murder (s 308); and
iii. Attempt to commit robbery (s 393).
Murder, culpable homicide and robbery are punishable separately under sections 302, 304 and
392 respectively.

(3) Attempt to commit suicide (s 309).
(4) Attempt to commit offences, for which no specific punishment is provided in the IPC (s 511). Scope of Sec 511- Section 511, which is the solitary provision included in the last chapter Of
Attempts to Commit Offences of the Penal Code, makes an attempt to commit an offence punishable. It
lays down general principles relating to attempts in India.
The scope of the section is, however, limited
only to those attempts where no express provisions have been made by the Code for the punishment.
This section does not apply to attempt to murder which is fully and exclusively covered by section
Also, attempt to commit an offence under special or local law is not punishable under the Code.

The section further leaves unpunished attempts to commit those offences which are punishable with fine
The section applies to (a) Attempts to commit an offence punishable with imprisonment for life
or imprisonment, and (b) Attempts to cause such an offence to be committed and in such attempt an act
is done towards the commission of the offence.
Punishment for attempt to commit an offence under section 511 may extend up to half of the
imprisonment for life or one-half of the longest term of imprisonment provided for that offence, or such
fine as is provided for the offence, or both.

2.4 Preparation and Attempt -- The Thin Line
On occasions more than one, courts in India have stressed that there is a thin line between the
preparation for, and an attempt to commit, an offence.
It is also difficult to distinguish between the
two. But such a task is crucial as, ordinarily, preparations to commit an offence do not attract criminal
liability. A doer becomes liable once he enters into the arena of attempt. The difference is starkly
illustrated in R v Raisat Ali,
in which the Calcutta High Court considered the case where the prisoner
had given an order to print 100 forms similar to those formerly used by Bengal Coal Company. The first
proof of the forms was also corrected by the accused. At about the stage when the accused was to have
made the final corrections and alteration to the printed form to make them appear exactly like the

Koppula Venkat Rao v State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 2004 SC 1874
Queen Empress v Nidha, (1891) ILR 14 All 38
Mohammed Akram v State of Assam, AIR 1951 Assam 17
Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Law of Crimes, 23
edn., Vol 2 pp 2522- 2532
K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4
Edn., p.849
Abhayanand Mishra v State of Bihari AIR 1961 SC 1698; Sudhir Kumar Mukherjee v State of West Bengal AIR 1973
SC 2655; Aman Kumar & Anr v State of Haryana AIR 2004 SC 1498
(1881) ILR 7 Cal 352


originals, he was arrested and charged with attempting to make a false document under section 464,
IPC. However, the court held him to be not guilty as the attempt could be said to have been completed
only after the seal or the signature of the company had been affixed. Consequently, the act done was not
an act towards making one of the forms of false documents, but if the prisoner had been caught in the
act of writing the name of the company on the printed form and had completed a single letter of the
name, then, in the words of Lord Blackburn, the actual transaction would have commenced which
would have ended in the crime of forgery and he would have been guilty of the attempt to commit
2.4.1 Tests to distinguish Preparation and Attempt- It is debatable as to when preparation has
ended and the actual attempt has begun. An important question that has baffled jurists and judges from
time to time is how to draw a dividing line between the act of preparation and that of an attempt to
commit a crime. Various tests or principles have been developed and employed by courts in India for
distinguishing an attempt to commit an offence from preparation made therefor. A few prominent
among these are- (1) the Proximity Rule, (2) Doctrine of Locus Poenitentiae, (3) Equivocality Test, and
(4) Impossibility Test.
33 The Proximity Rule- The act or a series of acts, in order to be designated as an attempt to
commit an offence, must be sufficiently proximate to the accomplishment of the intended substantive
offence. An act of the accused is considered proximate, if, though, it is not the last act that he intended to
do, is the last act that was legally necessary for him to do, if the contemplated result is afterwards
brought about without further conduct on his part.
The proximity rule was the basis for the Supreme
Court ruling in Abhayanand Mishra v State of Bihar
. In this case, the accused applied to the Patna
University for permission to appear as a private candidate in the MA degree examination. In support of
his eligibility, he forwarded certificates showing that he had obtained his BA degree and that he had
been teaching in a certain school. The university accepted his application and issued him an admission
card. However, it was found that he was not a graduate and the certificates were fake, so the university
prosecuted him for forgery and attempting to cheat. The trial court convicted him only for attempting
to cheat the university. Rejecting the contention of the appellant that he had not crossed the stage of
preparation for cheating the university, the Supreme Court held the accused guilty of having
committed the offence contrary to sec 420, read with sec 511 of IPC. It ruled that the preparation was
complete when the accused prepared the application for submission to the university, and that the
moment he dispatched it, he had entered the realm of attempt to commit the offence of cheating. The
Apex Court summarized the scope of the law of attempt embodied in sec 511 as:
A person commits the offence of attempt to commit a particular offence when: (i) he intends to commit
that particular offence, and (ii) he, having made preparations and with the intention to commit the offence, does an
act towards its commission, such an act need not be the penultimate act towards the commission of that ofence but
must be an act during the course of committing that offence.
The usual illustration of a proximate act is found in R v Taylor,
wherein A, who was found in the act of
striking a match behind a haystack, which he extinguished on perceiving that he was being watched,

P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.185
AIR 1961 SC 1698
1895 I F & F 511, cited in R C Nigam, Law of Crimes in India, 1965, pp 119


was held guilty of attempt to commit arson of haystack. But, if he had merely purchased a box of
matches, he would not have been found guilty of attempted arson, however evident it might be that he
intended to set fire to haystack when he purchased the matchbox.
An authoritative pronouncement was given by the Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra v Mohammad
. In this case, the accused were arrested by officials of the Central Excise for attempting to
smuggle silver out of India. Based on secret information, customs officials kept a watch over the accused
and apprehended them when they had brought silver ingots in a truck. The accused were found to have
kept some small and heavy parcels on the ground. At the same time, the sound of a mechanized sea-craft
was also heard. The accused were held guilty of committing the offence of attempting to export silver
out of India by sea in contravention of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act 1947, the Customs Act
1962 and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. Two separate, but concurring judgments were
delivered by Sarkaria and Chinnappa Reddy JJ. However, these two judicial pronouncements advance
different criteria for identifying a proximate act for distinguishing preparation from attempt.
Justice Chinnappa Reddy, delving into the proximity rule, observed:
In order to constitute an attempt, first there must be an intention to commit a particular offence, second,
some act must have been done which would necessarily have to be done towards the commission of the offence
and, third, such act must be proximate to the intended result. The measure of proximity is not in relation to time and
action but in relation to intention. The act must reveal, with reasonable certainity, in conjunction with other facts and
circumstances and not necessarily in isolation, an intention, as distinguished from a mere desire or object, to
commit the particular offence, though the act by itself may be merely suggestive or indicative of such intention,
but that it must be indicative or suggestive of the intention.

However, Sarkaria J considered proximity in terms of actual physical proximity, rather than intention
oriented proximity, to the objective of intended crime. He observed:
Broadly speaking, overt act or step in order to be criminal need not be the penultimate act towards the
commission of the offence. It is sufficient if such act or acts manifest a clear intention to commit the offence aimed,
being reasonably proximate to the consummation of the offence.

Applying the proximity rule in the instant case, Sarkaria J ruled:
They had reached close to the sea shore and ahd started unloading the silver there, near a creek from
which the sound of the engine of a sea craft was also heard. Beyond the stage of preparation, most of the steps
necessary in the course of export by sea had been taken. The only step that remained to be taken towards the
export of silver was to load it on a sea craft for moving out of the territorial waters of India. But for the
intervention of the officers of law, the unlawful export of silver would have consummated.
40 Doctrine of Locus Poenitentiae (time for repentance)- An act will amount to mere
preparation if a man on his own accord gives it up, before the criminal act is carried out. That is to say,
so long as the steps taken by the accused leave room for a reasonable expectation that he might of his
own accord, or because of the fear of the consequences that might befall him, desist from the

AIR 1980 SC 1111
Ibid, para 31 (emphasis supplied)
Ibid, para 13 (italics supplied)
Ibid, para 14


contemplated attempt, he will be treated at the stage of preparation.
In Malkiat Singh v State of Punjab

the appellant, a truck driver, who was carrying paddy out of the jurisdiction of the State of Punjab
without a licence, in violation of the Punjab (Export) Control Order, 1959, was stopped 14 miles away
from the Punjab-Delhi border, and was prosecuted for an attempt to contravene the said order. The
Supreme Court, while allowing the appeal, said that the act of carrying paddy did not amount to a
criminal attempt. The court observed:
The test for determining whether the act of the appellants constituted an attempt or preparation is
whether the overt acts already done are such that if the offender changes his mind, and does not proceed further in
its progress, the acts already done would be completely harmless. In the present case, it is quite possible that the
appellants may have been warned that they had no licence to carry the paddy and they may have changed their
minds at any place between Samalkha Barrier and the Delhi-Punjab boundary and not have proceeded further in
their journey. The Equivocality Test- The equivocality test, a continuation of the proximity rule and the
doctrine of locus poenitentiae, suggests that an act done towards the commission of the offence would
amount to an attempt to commit the offence if, and only if, it unequivocally indicates the intention of the
doer to accomplish the criminal object. If what is done indicates beyond reasonable doubt that the end is
towards which it is directed, it is an attempt, otherwise it is a mere preparation. In other words, the
steps taken or the acts done by the accused must speak for themselves.
In State v Parasmal & Ors,
Rajasthan High Court, plausibly referring to the equivocality test, observed:
When a person intends to commit a particular offence, and then he conducts himself in such a manner
which clearly indicates his desire to translate that intention into action, and in pursuance of such an intention, he
does something which may help him to accomplish that desire, then it can safely be held that he committed an
offence of attempt to commit a particular offence. It is not necessary that the act which falls under the definition of
attempt should in all circumstances be the penultimate act towards the commission of the offence. Impossibility Test- At one time, it was supposed that it would be no crime if a person
attempted to do something, which in fact was impossible to perform, for it was treated at par with a
mere preparation.
However, it is now perceived that impossibility of performance of an act does not
per se render the attempt to do it an innocent act.

The legal framework relating to law of attempts sketched under the IPC does not specifically deal with
an attempt to do an impossible act. Nevertheless, a careful reading of illustrations (a) and (b ) appended
to section 511 show that a person can be held guilty of attempt to do an act which is impossible.
Illustrations to section 511

(a) A makes an attempt to steal some jewels by breaking open a box, and finds after so opening the box,
that there is no jewel in it. He has done an act towards the commission of theft, and therefore, is
guilty under this section.

K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4
Edn., p.844
AIR 1970 SC 713
P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11
Edn., p.189
AIR 1969 Raj 65
Queen v Collins 9 Cox. C.C. 407, R v Mc Pherson (1857) 7 Cox. 281
R v Brown (1889( 24 QBD 357, R v Ring (1892) 17 Cox. CC 491, R v Shivpuri (1986) 2 All ER 334
Indian Penal Code, 1860


(b) A makes an attempt to pick the pocket of Z by thrusting his hand into Zs pocket. A fails in the
attempt in consequence of Zs having nothing in his pocket. A is guilty under this section.
These two illustrations, by necessary implication, lay down a rule that a person becomes liable for
attempting to commit an impossible act (stealing jewels from the empty box or something from the
empty pocket) if he, with intent to commit the intended offence, has done everything within his reach to
commit the intended offence but his criminal objective was frustrated because of reasons unknown to
him or circumstances beyond his control.
The crucial test for determining as to whether he has
crossed the stage of preparation is the overt act that manifests his intention to commit the intended
offence. In R v Shivpuri
the appellant was arrested by Customs Officers while in possession of a suit
case which he believed to contain prohibited drugs whereas on analysis the drugs found in the suit case
were only snuff or harmless vegetable matter. The accused had admitted to the Customs Officers after
his arrest that he was dealing in prohibited drugs. He was charged under section 1 of the Criminal
Attempts Act, 1981 with attempting to commit the offence of being knowingly concerned in dealing
with and harbouring prohibited drugs in violation of section 170(1)(b) of the Customs and Excise
Management Act. 1979.
The House of Lords held that a person could be held guilty of an attempt only if he did an act which was
more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence which he intended to commit, even if the
facts were such that the actual offence was impossible. In the present case, where the accused was
charged with being knowingly concerned with harbouring or dealing with goods whose import was
prohibited, it would be sufficient if it is proved that the person knew that the goods concerned were
prohibited goods. No proof was required that the person knew which category of prohibited drugs the
goods he handled belonged to.

The principle laid down in the above case is that the accused is punished for his guilty mind, although
the act committed is actually innocent. Thus, impossibility to do the offence cannot be a defence in India
and in England and a persons subjective belief to commit a particular crime is sufficient to convict him.

2.5 Accomplishment or Completion
The last stage in the commission of an offence is its accomplishment or completion. If the accused
succeeds in his attempt to commit the crime, he will be guilty of the complete offence under the
respective penal provision of the Indian Penal Code.

Re T Munirathnam Reddy AIR 1955 AP 118
(1986) 2 All ER 334
K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4
Edn., p.846



1. K D Gaur, A Textbook on the Indian Penal Code, 4

2. P S A Pillai, Criminal Law, 11

3. Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code, 33

4. Hari Singh Gour, Penal Law of India, vol 4, 11

5. Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Law of Crimes, 23

6. S.N.Mishra, India Penal Code, 16