What is a Cognizable and Non-Cognizable offence in India?

April 05, 2024

To put it simply, a cognizable offence permits arrest without a warrant, whereas a non-cognizable offence necessitates a warrant for arrest.   If you have been charged with a cognizable or non-cognizable offence and are unaware of the nature of it, you can get a complete idea reading through this article

The Criminal Procedure Code lays (CrPC) the rules for the conduct of proceedings against any person who has committed an offense under any Criminal law, whether it is I.P.C or other Criminal law.

Classification of Offences

Depending on the nature and gravity of an offense they can be classified under any of the following heads:

  1. Bailable and non-bailable offense

  2. Cognizable and non-cognizable offense.

  3. Compoundable and non-compoundable offense

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Basis of Classification

The basis of the classification of an offense depends on how serious it is. The punishment of each offense decides its seriousness. Serious offenses are those that are punishable with an imprisonment of not less than 3 years and are, therefore, considered cognizable offenses. While the word cognizable has not been defined in CrPC, and no exact test for determining the classification has been provided, it does state widely that an offense punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of more than 3 years shall be cognizable offenses. Further, in the case of State of West Bengal v. Swaran Kumar Guha & Ors., the Supreme Court held that the police cannot be handed over the complete discretion to decide the nature of the offense. To determine whether an offense is cognizable or not, principles of natural justice must be employed.

What is the meaning of Cognizable and Non-cognizable?

The word & lsquo cognizable' literally means capable of being known and the word & lsquo non-cognizable' means incapable of being known. These terms are to be understood in the legal context to identify and tell apart one type of offence from another.

A cognizable offence from its very meaning informs us that they are open to investigation i.e., can be explored and known about by the police without a prior court order.

On the other hand, a non-cognizable offence, from its very meaning, informs us that they are not open to investigation i.e., cannot be explored and known about by the police without a prior court order.

What are Cognizable Offences?

A cognizable offense is an offense in which the police officer as per the first schedule or under any other law for the time being in force, can arrest the convict without a warrant and can start an investigation without the permission of the court. Cognizable offenses are generally heinous or serious in nature such as murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, dowry death, etc. The first information report (FIR) is registered only in cognizable crimes.

Under section 154 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), a police officer is bound to register an FIR in case of a cognizable crime. He can also conduct some kind of preliminary inquiry before registering the FIR. In these offenses, a convict is arrested and produced before the magistrate in the stipulated time. Some of the examples of a cognizable offense are as follows:

  1. Waging or attempting to wage war, or abetitng the waging of war against the government of India,

  2. Murder,

  3. Rape,

  4. Dowry Death,

  5. Kidnapping,

  6. Theft,

  7. Criminal Breach of Trust,

  8. Unnatural Offenses.

Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides that under a cognizable offense the Police Officer has to receive the First Information Report (FIR) relating to the cognizable offense.

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Key Elements of cognizable offenses:

  • Cognizable offenses are those that a police officer can arrest without a warrant.

  • And such cases, after an arrest has been made, the accused will be produced before a magistrate, and he may require the police officer to investigate the matter.

  • After investigation, if the case is made out, i.e. charge sheet filed goes against the accused, the magistrate can order for arrest.

  • During the pendency of trial, bail application can be moved before the concerned magistrate.

  • Cognizable offenses are both bailable, and non-bailable.

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Examples of Cognizable offence

Some of the examples of cognizable offences are as follows:

What are Non-cognizable Offences?

A non-cognizable offense is the offense listed under the first schedule of the Indian Penal Code and is bailable in nature. In the case of a non-cognizable offense, the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant as well as cannot start an investigation without the permission of the court. The crimes of forgery, cheating, defamation, public nuisance, etc., fall in the category of non-cognizable crimes.

In this type of crime, a criminal complaint is lodged with the metropolitan magistrate who is supposed to order the concerned police station to initiate an investigation. The police officer is supposed to file the charge sheet with the court which is followed by a trial. After the trial, if the accused is found guilty, the court passes the order to issue the warrant to arrest the accused. Some of the examples of a non-cognizable offense are as follows:

  1. Assault,

  2. Cheating,

  3. Forgery

Key Elements of non-cognizable offense:

  • Non cognizable offenses are those, that a police officer cannot arrest without a warrant.

  • In such offenses for arrest, all the steps have to be followed like

  • Filing of complaint/F.I.R.

  • Investigation

  • Charge sheet,

  • Charge sheet to be filed in court

  • Trial

  • The final order of arrest if the case has been made out.

Examples of Non-Cognizable offence

Some of the examples of non-cognizable offences are as follows:

Difference between Cognizable and Non Cognizable offenses

The difference between Cognizable and Non-Cognizable offenses has been defined in the Criminal Procedure Code as follows

Cognizable Offence

  1. The cognizable offense has been defined under Section 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure . Cognizable offense means an offense for which a police officer may, in accordance with the First Schedule or under any other law for the time being in force, arrest without a warrant or permission/order from the Magistrate.

  2. Cognizable offenses are those offenses that are serious in nature. Example- Murder, Rape, Dowry Death, Kidnapping, Theft, Criminal Breach of Trust, Unnatural Offences.

  3. Section 154 of CrPC provides that under a Cognizable offense or case, the Police Officer has to receive the First Information Report (FIR) relating to the cognizable offense, which can be obtained without the Magistrate's permission, and enter it in the General Diary to immediately start the investigation. An FIR sets the criminal law in motion.

  4. If a Cognizable offense has been committed, a Police Officer can investigate without the Magistrate's permission.

Non-Cognizable Offence

  1. A non-cognizable offense or a non-cognizable case has been defined in the Criminal Procedure Code as an offense for which the police have no authority to arrest without a warrant.

  2. Non-Cognizable offenses are those which are less serious in nature. Example- Assault, Cheating, Forgery, Defamation, etc.

  3. Section 155 of CrPC provides that if a police officer receives information regarding the commission of a non-cognizable offense, he is supposed to enter the substance of the case in the station diary and refer the informant to approach the concerned Magistrate.

  4. Under a Non-Cognizable offense/case, in order to start the investigation, it is important for the police officer to obtain permission from the Magistrate.

What are the powers of a Police Officer while investigating Cognizable Cases?

Any officer in charge of a Police Station, without the order of a magistrate, investigates any cognizable case which a court having jurisdiction over the local area within the limits of such station would have the power to inquire into or try under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. 1973.

The Supreme Court of India, in Lalita Kumari vs. Govt. of UP on 12 November 2013 held that & lsquo the police must compulsorily register the FIR on receiving a complaint if the information discloses a cognizable offense, and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation.

The police cannot refuse to register the case on the ground that it is either not reliable or credible (Smt. Gurmito vs. the State of Punjab And Ors 1996 CriLJ 1254 P&H). Further, refusal to record FIR on the ground that the place of crime does not fall within the territorial jurisdiction of the police station, amount to dereliction of duty. Information about cognizable offenses would have to be recorded and forwarded to the police station having jurisdiction (State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Punati Ramulu And Others, AIR 1993 SC 2644).

It is the duty of the officer-in-charge of the police station to register an FIR when an investigation under section 156(3) of CrPC is directed by the Magistrate, even when the Magistrate explicitly does not say so (Mohd. Yousuf vs. Afaq Jahan, (2006), SCC 627).

What are the powers of the police officer while investigating a Non-Cognizable offense?

A non-cognizable offense is an offense where a police officer is not authorized to arrest in the absence of a warrant. The police cannot arrest any person without a warrant and start investigating the matter on their own. The police officer must seek an order from the magistrate under section 155(2) of CrPC. The aggrieved party must file a complaint in the concerned police station in order to initiate an investigation. After the completion of the investigation, the police officer must file the charge sheet in court. After the trial, the court passes orders regarding the issuing of a warrant to arrest the accused.

Cases consisting of both Cognizable and Non-Cognizable Offences

According to Section 155(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code, when two or more offenses are there in a case, of which at least one is of cognizable nature, and the other of non-cognizable nature, then the entire case has to be dealt with as a cognizable case, and the investigating officer will have all the powers and authority as he has in investigating a cognizable case.

What is the Procedure to be followed in Cases of Cognizable Offences

The procedure relating to the Cognizable Offences has been described below:

1. First Information Report F.I.R. means the information, given to the police that a person known or unknown has committed an offense that is listed as a cognizable offense in Schedule 1 of Cr.P.C. It has to be signed by the informant. A copy of F.I.R. has to be given to the informant and the second copy of F.I.R. has to be sent to the magistrate for his perusal and record. This is regarded as the basis or foundation of the prosecution case. F.I.R. is said to be the first, untainted, unguided version of the case and generally is never false.

2. Report to the Magistrate When a cognizable offense has been reported, the officer-in-charge makes the reports to the concerned judicial magistrate and appoints himself or a subordinate officer for investigation.

3. Investigation In cognizable offense, the investigation begins as soon as the information is received and recorded. All formalities of the order of the magistrate and warrants arrive later. The Police officer assigns proceeds to spot, arrest the suspect, and ascertain facts and circumstances of the case.

For heinous offenses, no time limit has been prescribed specifically by Section 468 of Cr.P.C. for completion of investigation but one can always approach the Supreme Court for unreasonable delay under Article 21 which is the Right to Freedom as provided by the Indian Constitution.

4. Search and Production of Documents If the Police believe that some search has to be made during the investigation, he is authorized to do so for a cognizable offense. He can also issue or order a person to produce any documents that are relevant to the case.

5. Arrest Arrest refers to a physical restraint put on a person as a result of an accusation made against him for an offense that is cognizable in nature. Three elements are present for the arrest of a person:

  1. Intention to arrest under authority

  2. Detention in a legal manner and

  3. The arrested person understands why he is arrested and knows his rights.

Arrest in cognizable offenses does not require a warrant. It can be done by making of accusation that is so dangerous or serious in nature that it cannot be avoided. Within 24 hours of the arrest, the Police have to acquire an arrest warrant for the person in custody. Within 24 hours, the Police have all the time to investigate the offense and question the person.

6. Remand When Police arrest a person in case a cognizable offense and investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours, then they make a written application to the magistrate and request him to keep the accused in police custody for a further period otherwise the accused has to be released. The request for remand can be granted for not more than 14 days under police custody.

7. Statement of Witnesses During the investigation, the persons who are included in the case basically the witnesses, as well as the accused, are questioned and their statements of their side of the event are recorded.

8. Medical Examination In case of rape and molestation or any such crime where the medical examination is necessary, it's the duty of the police officer to get it conducted within 24 hours of the offense being reported.

9. Chargesheet When a Police officer concludes an investigation of a cognizable offense, he sends a report to the magistrate of that investigation in which the I.O. finds the material to proceed against the accused. This report includes F.I.R., statements of witnesses recorded by police, names of parties, brief facts and information gathered by the I.O. during the investigation, etc.

10. Inquiry At the stage of inquiry, the judge doesn't give a decision. He/she reaches a preliminary finding and leaves it to the parties to make further action like plead guilty etc. In this stage, witnesses are generally required to come to the court, take an oath and then give evidence in respect of what they have seen and stated before the police during the investigation.

11. Trial The hallmark of the trial is that every witness who gives evidence will now give the same evidence in court and is bound by an oath. The trial has several categories:

  1. Trial of warrant case by a magistrate

  2. Trial of summons case by a magistrate

  3. The trial started on cognizance taken on a police report and

  4. Sessions Trial.

In cognizable offenses, the trial is usually under Warrant Case or Sessions Case as they deal with more serious and heinous offenses.

12. Judgment The judgment contains the points for determination, the decision on those points, and reasons for the same by considering the examination, and cross-examination of the accused and the witnesses.

13. Punishment In Cognizable cases, the punishment period is usually more than 3 years going up to life imprisonment or the death penalty as they are serious and heinous in nature.

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What is the Procedure to be followed in Non- Cognizable Cases?

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, no police officer should investigate a non-cognizable case without the order of the concerned magistrate. When a police officer approaches the magistrate for permission, it is not incumbent on him to grant the permission invariably.

It is open to the magistrate either to grant permission or refuse to grant permission in such cases but should give reasons for his decision. In a case before the High Court, an accused challenged the order of a magistrate in according permission to the police to investigate the offense registered against him under Section 182 IPC (false information with the intent to cause a public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person).

As for the case details, an official inquiry was conducted against some officials who indulged in corrupt practices while discharging their official duties. Prior to it, a preliminary inquiry was conducted by a police officer and as part of it, he recorded the statements of the petitioner accused and some others.

However, during the official inquiry, they gave volte-face and did not support the version that was given by them before the police officer regarding the corrupt practices of the delinquent officials. On the contrary, they turned hostile and given false statements to help corrupt delinquent officials. Taking it seriously, the police officer lodged a complaint against them for the offense under Section 182 IPC.

Accordingly, the concerned sub-inspector of police registered the case against them for the said offense which was a non-cognizable offense, and the officer (complainant) sought permission from the concerned magistrate to investigate the matter. When the magistrate accorded permission to investigate, the accused challenged it before the High Court.

Prior permission The counsel for the petitioner-accused contended that as per Section 155 CrPC, the police are not authorized to register FIR in respect of the information received by them which discloses the commission of a non-cognizable offense. The SHO of the concerned police station should only enter the substance of the information in the diary and refer the informant to the concerned magistrate and upon receiving the order from the latter only, the officer should investigate the matter. Except for according permission, the magistrate has not passed any “ speaking order” , he pointed out.

On the other hand, the public prosecutor supported the impugned order and urged the court to dismiss the petition of the accused. After hearing both sides and perusing the material on record and various court judgments, the High Court said that in terms of Section 155 CrPC, the SHO is not authorized to investigate non-cognizable offenses without prior permission of the court.

In the present case, contrary to Section 155 CrPC and also the orders of the Andhra Pradesh police manual, the concerned SHO had registered the FIR on receiving a complaint from the police officer and thereafter only sought permission of the magistrate for investigation. The aforesaid violation is an incurable one in view of the mandatory provision laid down under Section 155 CrPC and also the AP police manual, the judge observed.

As for according permission to investigate the matter, the Court said that the concerned magistrate has not assigned any plausible reasons which prompted him to grant such permission. Besides, the magistrate has not recorded the reasons according to permission. In view of the procedural violations, the Court allowed the petition by setting aside the impugned order.

Sending a Report to the Magistrate under Cognizable and Non-Cognizable Offences (Section 158)

A report is sent to the Magistrate which is called the police report. It is sent by the superior police officer, to make the Magistrate aware that a particular case is being investigated by a police officer. The main objective of sending a report is to enable the Magistrate to control the investigation and give directions if required under Section 159 of the Code.

The report should be sent to the Magistrate without any delay. In Swati Ram v. the State of Rajasthan, it was held that mere delay in sending the report does not throw away the prosecution case in its entirety.

At different stages of an investigation, different reports are to be submitted by the police to the Magistrate. These reports are:

  1. Section 157 of the CrPC requires the officer in charge of the police station to submit a report to the Magistrate, called a preliminary report.

  2. Section 168 of the CrPC requires a subordinate officer to submit a report to the officer in charge of the police station.

  3. Section 173 of the CrPC requires that a final report is to be submitted to the Magistrate after the investigation gets over.

Important Judgements relating to Cognizable and Non-Cognizable Offences

1. Lalita Kumari Vs State Of U.P, Air The honorable Supreme Court held that under section 154 a police officer is bound to register FIR if the information suggests a cognizable offense, the court went even further to hold that the expression “ Shall' leaves no discretion to a police officer to hold premolar investigation before registering the FiR. The court also held that stringent action shall be taken against earing officers who had refused to register the FIR. However, the court held arrest and investigation are different concepts section 154 does not give the right to police to arrest the person if fir is registered against him without any evidence, It must be noted that section 154 shall have no application in the below offenses

  • Matrimonial disputes/ family disputes

  • Commercial offenses

  • Medical negligence cases

  • Corruption cases

Cases where there is abnormal delay/laches in initiating criminal prosecution, for example, over 3 months delay in reporting the matter without satisfactorily explaining the reasons for the delay.

2. Sakiri Vasu Vs State Of Uttar Pradesh And Others The Supreme Court observed that if a person has reason to believe that police are not investigating the matter or refusing to register FIR can send the substance of information to the superintendent of police under section 154(3). If the aggrieved still is not satisfied with the investigation may file an application before a magistrate under section 156(3) the magistrate if satisfied that information discloses a cognizable offense, may direct the police to register the FIR.

3. Ravishwar Manjhi Vs State Of Jharkhand, Air 2009, SC 1262 It was held that mere information received on the telephone by a police Officer without any identity or description of the accused as well as the nature of injuries caused by the victims as well as the name of the culprits may not be treated as FIR

4. Sunil Kumar Vs State Of M.P In this case, petitioners had a grievance that their said representation was not reduced to writing by the police station, The Supreme Court held that the petitioners should have approached the superintendent of police before approaching the Court, and the court directed that respondents take cognizance of their matter as soon as possible

5. Gangadhar Narayan Nayak v. State of Karnataka & Ors., (CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 451 OF 2022)
It was held that, the Special Court can consider an offence under Section 23 of POCSO without the need for permission from the jurisdictional Magistrate for police investigation. Accused individuals can face charges under Section 227 of the Cr.P.C. even without such permission.

6. Sushila Agarwal v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Anr, 2020 5 SCC 1
It was decided that police should promptly register FIRs even in non-cognisable offences without undue delay or unreasonable conditions imposed on complainants.

How can a lawyer help you in your criminal case?

A lawyer having substantial experience in handling criminal cases can guide you through the court procedure and can help you prepare a solid defense for your case. He can prepare you for cross-examinations and guide you on how to answer the prosecution's questions. A criminal lawyer is an expert in dealing with criminal cases and knows how to tackle a particular case owing to his years of experience. Having a good criminal lawyer by your side you can ensure a successful result in your case in the minimum time possible.

What happens if a criminal charge is not dismissed?

Being charged with a crime, whether major or minor, is a serious matter. A person facing criminal charges risks severe penalties and consequences, such as jail time, having a criminal record, and loss of relationships and future job prospects, among other things. While some legal matters can be handled alone, a criminal arrest of any nature warrants the legal advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and secure the best possible outcome for your case. Thus, it is crucial to have a good criminal lawyer by your side when charged with a crime who can guide you with the criminal case and can help get the charges dismissed. You can also ask a lawyer online a free legal question using LawRato's Ask a Free Question service.

These guides are not legal advice, nor a substitute for a lawyer
These articles are provided freely as general guides. While we do our best to make sure these guides are helpful, we do not give any guarantee that they are accurate or appropriate to your situation, or take any responsibility for any loss their use might cause you. Do not rely on information provided here without seeking experienced legal advice first. If in doubt, please always consult a lawyer.

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