• LawPublicus

Victim Precipitation

NAME: Tanya Singh

DESIGNATION: Student, Banasthali University


“In every prominence you have the premier to be a victim or the Creator”


Theory of victim precipitation asserts that sometimes it is an act or omission on the part of the victim which causes the offense to occur. In essence it means if it wasn’t for the actions of the victim the offense would have never occurred. A crime is brought about through the contribution of numerous forces. These forces could be psychological needs of the offender or his moral compunctions, economic conditions, social life or any other societal issue imposed on him. In most cases, the offender’s societal and surrounding conditions along with his psychological motivations are sufficient for him to commit a crime. Whereas in a victim precipitated crime it is omission or act by the victim that provokes the other to commit a crime.


Victim precipitation is an umbrella term. The extent of affect it has on the offender can be divided into three categories: firstly, wherein it does not affect the offender as the offender had premeditated the offense; secondly, wherein it has a minor effect, albeit triggered the offender to commit the crime; and thirdly, when the provocation made significant contribution, such that it becomes the sole cause for the offender to commit the crime.

Victim precipitation highly affects the liability of the precipitator and the precipitated. In the first scenario the liability on the victim would be none because the offender had already premeditated the crime since the victim’s actions had no role to play in his conduct. In the second scenario the offender had considered committing the crime but had decided not to execute it until the actions of the victim triggered him to do so. In this case the liability shifts partly onto the victim, but it has be decided entirely on the merits of the individual case by identifying whether a reasonable man would have been provoked by the particular acts of the victim in that case. In the third scenario, the offender had not premeditated or considered committing the crime beforehand and his conduct were solely based on the actions of the victim.


The criminal justice system does not consciously or expressly consider this theory. However, it is indirectly considered in various offenses wherein it becomes a ground for mitigation of sentence or charge reduction and seldom even leads to a verdict of acquittal. In circumstances like these the theory of victim precipitation is recognized either informally by another name. Such unconscious acknowledgment of this concept in individual cases sometimes leads to the court to a misfit decision or sometimes a correct result lacking of appropriate reasoning. The law assumes that the doer is the main perpetrator in the commission of the crime and the receiver of the crime is always inactive, i.e. has no role in the commission of the crime. Victim’s role in the causation of crime is recognized by the legal framework in a very limited manner.


In a situation where a person has been threatened or attacked and acts out of fear then he has the privilege to use reasonable force to protect himself. In such a situation the offender’s actions have been precipitated and the criminal liability lies on the victim. Even if the person uses deadly force in his defense the precipitative conduct may justify his actions. Though in such cases it becomes imperative to determine if the use of the deadly force is has been improper or not. In case of improper use of deadly force the offender will not be entirely discharged from criminal liability. This rationale can also be applied in the case of defending others or property or habitation since in all such situations the actions of the victim are precipitative in the absence of which the offense would not have occurred in the first place. Thus, self-defense and its subsets are the most prominent though informal application of the theory of victim precipitation in the formal legal framework.


When an offence is defined in terms of the harmful result it has the question to be answered is whether it was the actions of the accused that caused the harmful result. To understand this better the following two illustrations can be considered. For example X challenged Y to a car race on a highway. X in attempt to pass Y’s car went onto the wrong side of the highway and died crashing into a truck. Y was charged with criminal liability for the death of X but was later discharged of the same by the court. In the above cases the car race was illegal and had the race not taken place the resultant death would not have occurred but in the first illustration Y was discharged of criminal liability. The distinction lies in the identity of the victim in both the cases. In the illustration it was the risky and precipitative actions of X himself that caused his demise. The actions of X and Y had affected an innocent third party. Even though the ideal solution would be to hold X and Y criminally liable in both cases the courts did not take such a decision in actual cases by indirectly relying on the theory of victim precipitation.


The lack of recognition of victim precipitation formally in the criminal legal framework had led to its uneven application in various cases. Laying down this principle in and recognizing it would lead to a more fair dealing in analogous cases whether it is applicable and it would also save time of the courts and other agents of justice by eliminating the time spent in applying the theory in an informal manner on a specious rationale. This theory helps determine the extent of the dangerous character of a person. If an offender commits a crime on his accords without any provocation then he is punished reasonably by the existing framework.