Punishment for an attempt to commit an offence

Intention, preparation, attempts and commission are the four stages in a crime. By virtue of Section 511 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 “an attempt to commit an offence” is a punishable offence. Every attempt though fails must create an alarm, which of itself an injury and the normal guilt of the offender is the same, as if he had succeeded. Hence, an attempt to commit an offence is a punishable offence.

By virtue of Section 511 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 whoever attempts to commit an offence punishable by this Code with imprisonment for life or imprisonment, or to cause such an offence to be committed, and in such attempt does any act towards the commission of the offence, shall, where no express provision is made by this Code for the punishment of such attempt, be punished with imprisonment of any description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one half of the imprisonment for life or, as the case may be, one half of the longest term of imprisonment provided for that offence, or with such fine as is provided for the offence, or with both.

An attempt means to try OR to endeavour to do something. In other words, an attempt means an act towards the commission of the offence, which fails due to circumstances independent of the attempter’s will. A person is said ((Abhayanand Mishra v. State of Bihar, AIR 1961 SC 1698))to have committed “an attempt to commit an offence” under the Indian Penal Code, if;

  • He intends to commit any particular offence; OR
  • He made preparation for it; and
  • He does any act towards its commission.

An attempt is said to be a direct movement towards the commission of an offence soon after the preparations. It is an intentional preparatory action, which fails in its object because of circumstances independent of the person who seeks its accomplishment.

An attempt to commit an offence can be said to begin when the preparations are complete and the culprit commences to do something with the intention of committing the offence and which is a step towards the commission of the offence. The moment he commences to do an act with the necessary intention, he commences his attempt to commit the offence. This is clear from the general expression attempt to commit an offence and is exactly what the provisions of Section 511 of the Indian Penal Code, requires ((Ramabai Nivrutti Chavan v. Nivrutti Nimbhaji Chavan & Others, 1988 (2) BomCR 161)).

Whether a certain act amounts to an attempt to commit a particular offence is a question of fact dependant on the nature of the offence and the steps necessary to take in order to commit it. The difference between mere preparation and actual attempt to commit an offence consists chiefly in the greater degree of determination. For an offence of an attempt to commit rape, the prosecution must establish that it has gone beyond the stage of preparation ((Rameshwar v. State of Haryana, AIR 1987 SC 713)).

The test for determining whether, the act constitutes 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. But where the thing done is such that, if not prevented from extraneous cause would fructify into commission of an offence, it would amount to an attempt to commit that offence ((Malkiat Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1970 SC 713)). In order to constitute an offence,

  • there must be an intention to commit an offence;
  • some acts must have been done which would necessarily have to be done towards the commission of the offence; and
  • such acts must be proximate to the intended result

in other words, the acts must reveal, with reasonable certainty, in connection 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 ((State of Maharashtra v. Mohammad Yakub, AIR 1980 SC 1111)).

However, it must be noted that, Section 511 of the Indian Penal Code will not apply to cases of attempt made punishable under some other specific sections of the Indian Penal Code, viz.

  • Attempting to wage war against the Government of India (Section 121)
  • Attempt wrongfully to restrain the President and other higher officials with intent to induce or compel them to exercise or refrain from exercising any of their lawful powers (Section 124)
  • Attempt to rescue State prisoners or prisoners of war (Section 130)
  • Attempt by a public servant to obtain an illegal gratification (Section 161)
  • Attempt to use as true, evidence known to be false (Section 196)
  • Attempt to commit murder (Section 307)
  • Attempt to commit suicide (Section 309)
  • Attempt to commit robbery (Section 393)
  • Attempt by one of many joint house breakers by night to cause death or grievous hurt (Section 460)

Suspension of life term sentence denied

The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court upholding the contentions of the public prosecutor that, the appellant did not deserve to be let out on bail since the charge of murdering a young girl in a gruesome manner had been proved before the trial court beyond all reasonable doubts, dismissed the application of the convict to suspend his life term.

The public prosecutor also contented that, the appellant had inflicted injuries on the girl’s father also when he attempted to prevent the murder. Later, he carried the girl’s severed head and threw it in a nearby bush. The prosecution through cogent evidence adduced by the girl’s father as well as other witnesses had proved the entire incident. Therefore, the appellant has not made out a case for suspension of sentence

Earlier the trial court convicted the appellant for life term in the case of trespassing and murder of deceased victim who refused to marry him and severing her head in the presence of her father, mother and younger sister. Charges were made under Section 302 and Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 302: Punishment for murder

Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 307: Attempt to murder

Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to [imprisonment for life], or to such punishment as is hereinbefore mentioned. Attempts by life convicts. [When any person offending under this section is under sentence of [imprisonment for life], he may, if hurt is caused, be punished with death.]