In criminal jurisprudence, when a person commits any crime, it is believed that an offence has taken place against society at large. The offence can be as serious as murder or it can be trivial as committing theft of 100 Rs. These offences put a significant impact on the behaviour of society and it is the utmost duty of the state to protect its people against such crimes by enacting a robust justice delivery system. In our country, the offences are governed by the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, which comprehensively deals with each type of offence.
In this article, we are going to discuss the meaning and types of offences under the Criminal Procedure Code, of 1973. Further, we will thoroughly explore the nature and the punishment of various offences prescribed under the Code.
What is offence?
Before adverting to the classification of offences, it is important to understand the meaning of the term ‘offence’. As per Merriam Webster Law Dictionary, offence is a crime which outrages the moral or physical senses of society. In simple words, it can be understood as an illegal act which is punishable under the Indian penal law. The Collins Dictionary defines offence as a crime where a person breaks the law of society and is required to be punished for the same. The gravity, seriousness, and mode of trial differ from offence to offence under our penal system.
Classification of offences
As per CrPC, the offences can be classified under 3 categories, which are as follows:
- Cognizable and non-cognizable offences
- Bailable and non-bailable offences
- Compoundable and non-compoundable offences
Cognizable and non-cognizable offences
- Cognizable offences
The term cognizable offence is defined under Section 2(C) of CrPC. According to the said Section, a cognizable offence is an offence that police can investigate and arrest without a warrant. These offences are usually serious in nature and have a maximum punishment of more than three years. Some examples of cognizable offences are murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, and assault. It is important to note that Schedule 1 of the CrPC provides a comprehensive list of the cognizable offences.
When a cognizable offence is committed, the police can take action on their own and start an investigation. The police officer can arrest the accused person without a warrant and can also search the place where the offence was committed without a warrant. The police can also seize any objects related to the crime without a warrant. The person who is accused of a cognizable offence can be remanded in police custody for up to 15 days. The power of a police officer to investigate a cognizable offence is conferred under Section 156 of CrPC. Interestingly, a cognizable offence can be both bailable and non-bailable and even interim bail can be granted.
- Non-Cognizable offences
Non-cognizable offences are those offences which are relatively minor in nature and the police cannot arrest an accused without a warrant or prior permission from the court. Such offences do not pose an immediate threat to the public, and hence the police need not take immediate action to arrest the accused. Some examples of non-cognizable offences include defamation, simple assault, cheating, and criminal trespass.
The procedure for dealing with non-cognizable offences is different from that of cognizable offences. In case of a non-cognizable offence, the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant. The victim or complainant must file a complaint with the police, who then register an FIR (First Information Report) and start an investigation. The police can arrest the accused only after obtaining a warrant from the court. If the accused is found guilty, he or she can be sentenced to a maximum of two years imprisonment or a fine, or both. It is pertinent to note that non-cognizable offences are always bailable in nature.
Bailable and Non-bailable offence
- Bailable offences
As per Section 2(a) of CrPC, bailable offence refers to those offences which are classified as bailable as per the First Schedule of the Code or any other law in force. For bailable offences, it is a matter of the right of the accused to get bail and the police officer or any judicial authority has no right to reject the bail application. Section 436 of the Code provides that a person accused of any bailable offence can apply for bail while under arrest or at any stage of proceedings.
In Public Prosecutor v/s Raghuramaiah, it was held that before releasing the accused on bail, having a bail bond is an absolute necessity. Undoubtedly, the Court is vested with the power to cancel the bail if the accused does not comply with the conditions mentioned in the bail bond.
- Non-bailable offences
For a logical understanding, all the offences which are not defined as ‘bailable’ will be deemed as non-bailable offences. It is important to note that an accused cannot ask for bail as a matter of right in case of a non-bailable offence, and it totally depends upon the discretion of the court. If a person has committed two types of offences i.e., bailable and non-bailable, he is required to give bail bond for both offences. As a condition of the bail, it is mandatory for the accused to not commit any offence similar to the one he is currently accused of. Further, he shall not temper any material evidence any influence any witness having information related to the case.
However, an accused will not be entitled to apply for bail, if any of the following conditions are satisfied:
- He is arrested for the commission of an offence which is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment;
- The accused has committed a cognizable offence and he had been previously convicted of an offence punishable with the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Compoundable and Non-compoundable offences
- Compoundable Offences
Compoundable offences refer to those crimes where the victim has the right to forgive the accused, and the accused can then avoid prosecution by paying compensation to the victim. These offences are usually considered to be of a less serious nature, and they are generally punishable with a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. As per Section 320 of CrPC, Compoundable offences are divided into 2 categories: firstly, where the permission of the court is not necessary before compounding, such as criminal trespass, defamation, etc., and secondly, where the leave of court is essential before compounding, such as hurting someone with a dangerous weapon, destruction of valuable property, etc.
Examples of compoundable offences in India include offences such as criminal breach of trust, cheating, and defamation. In such cases, the victim can enter into a compromise with the accused and withdraw the case. The court would then permit the withdrawal of the case, and the accused would not have a criminal record. However, in some cases, the court may require the presence of both the accused and the victim before allowing the compromise.
- Non-Compoundable offences
Non-Compoundable offences, on the other hand, are serious crimes that cannot be compromised by the victim. The offences are believed to be committed against the State, and they are punishable with imprisonment, fine, or both. The accused cannot avoid prosecution by paying compensation to the victim. It is important to note that all the offences which are not mentioned as compoundable under Section 320 of the CrPC are known as non-compoundable offences.
For instance- non-compoundable offences in India include offences such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and theft. The State, rather than the victim, is the party that prosecutes the accused, and the victim’s role is limited to being a witness in the case. The accused cannot enter a compromise with the victim and avoid prosecution. Even if the victim forgives the accused, the State can still prosecute the accused for the crime.
The classification of offences in India is an important aspect of the criminal justice system. It determines how an accused person is treated during the investigation and trial process. Cognizable and non-cognizable offences, bailable and non-bailable offences, and compoundable and non-compoundable offences are some of the classifications that are used in India. These offences are comprehensively dealt with by the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, which defines their meaning and the punishments attached thereto. If a person is convicted of any of the above-discussed offences, it is strongly advised to consult an experienced criminal lawyer and take necessary steps relating to the bail accordingly.