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Difference between Murder and Culpable Homicide

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The word ―homicide has been derived from the Latin terms ― homi (man) and cido (cut). In its literal sense, ―homicide means the killing of a human being by another human being. However, every homicide is not unlawful or criminal. Deaths caused by innocent agents (a child, a person of unsound mind, someone exercising their right to private defence, etc.) are covered under ―Chapter IV: Of General Exceptions’ of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereafter referred to as the IPC). These are treated as lawful homicides. The homicides that are made punishable under the IPC obviously carry the label of unlawful homicides.

Chapter XVI of the IPC (Offences Affecting the Human Body) begins with the ―Offences

Affecting Life and deals with homicide offenses. It deals with four kinds of homicide offenses:

  1. Culpable homicide not amounting to murder (hereafter referred to as culpable homicide)
  2. Culpable homicide amounting to murder (hereafter referred to as murder)
  3. Causing death by rash or negligent act
  4. Dowry death

Out of these four, this article aims at providing a comparative analysis between the first two; i.e. culpable homicide and murder – in order to find out which all aspects make them similar and which all aspects make them different.

Section 299 of the IPC

Culpable Homicide – Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

Explanation 1 – A person, who causes bodily injury to another who is labouring under a disorder, disease, or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerates the death of that other, shall be deemed to have caused his death.

Explanation 2 – Where death is caused by bodily injury, the person who causes such bodily injury shall be deemed to have caused the death, although by resorting to proper remedies and skilful treatment the death might have been prevented.

Explanation 3 – The causing of the death of a child in the mother’s womb is not homicide. But it may amount to culpable homicide to cause the death of a living child if any part of that child has been brought forth, though the child may not have breathed or been completely born.

Section 300 of the IPC

Murder – Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or—

(Secondly) —If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or—

(Thirdly) —If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or—

(Fourthly) —If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Exceptions to Section 300

Section 300 of the IPC has provided five instances where culpable homicide is not murder. They are the follows: 

Exception 1 – Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident. However, the above exception is subject to the following provisos:—

(First) – That the provocation is not sought or voluntarily provoked by the offender as an excuse for killing or doing harm to any person.

(Secondly) – That the provocation is not given by anything done in obedience to the law, or by a public servant in the lawful exercise of the powers of such a public servant.

(Thirdly) – That the provocation is not given by anything done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defence. 

Exception 2 – When the person has a good faith while exercising his right of private defence of property or person exceeds the power that is given to him and thus causing the death of the person against whom he is exercising his right without any knowledge or intention of doing anything more which is necessary for such purpose.

If the accused exceeds his right of private defence intentionally then he will be liable for murder but if it is unintentionally then he will be liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Exception 3 – When any public servant or any person authorized by the public servant acts for the advancement of justice and exceeds their powers causing a death of a person which in bonafide intention believes to be lawful and considered as necessary for the purpose of discharging his duty as a public servant and without ill-treatment towards the person whose death is caused.

Exception 4 – Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner. It should be noted that it is immaterial in such cases which party offers the provocation or commits the first assault.

Exception 5 – Culpable homicide is not murder when the person whose death is caused, being above the age of eighteen years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent. Consent should be unconditional and without any reservation. And it must be unequivocal.

Comparative Analysis

Culpable Homicide (defined under section 299 of the IPC) and Murder (defined under Section 300 of the IPC) are two offences whose difference has always been perplexing to both law students and eminent jurists alike. Their definitions are very technical; which often leads to confusion. It is a quite difficult task to create a clear-cut and watertight definition for either of these offences by simply going through the definition given in the IPC. It is from the facts of the case that one can make a conclusion whether an act constitutes culpable homicide or murder.

A very basic principle one has to understand in this aspect is that every murder is a culpable homicide but not every culpable homicide is murder. Section 299 defines culpable homicide simpliciter. Section 300 talks about instances of culpable homicide which have some certain characteristics, leading it to be classified as murder. Another major point in this regard one has to understand is that when the same set of facts are given to two different judges, it is very much possible that one judge will view it as a case of culpable homicide while the other judge will view it as a case of murder.

Deciding whether a case falls under the ambit of culpable homicide or whether it falls under the ambit of murder is usually determined by two considerations:

1. Specificity of intent

2. Degree of certainty of death

Illustration 1: A knows Z to be behind a bush. B does not know it. A, intending to cause or knowing it to be likely to cause Z’s death, induces B to fire at the bush. B fires and kills Z. Here, B may be guilty of no offence; but A has committed the offence of culpable homicide.

Illustration 2: A, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely to cause B’s death, shoots B with a pistol at point blank range. As a result of the gunshot, B dies. Here, A has committed the offence of murder. There are two similarities between the aforementioned situations. In both these situations, the death of an individual has occurred and there was the intention to cause death or to create a bodily injury that the offender knows is likely to result in death.

What separates these two cases is the specificity of intent and the degree of certainty of death. In comparison with the first illustration, the second illustration shows a more specific intent to cause the death of a person. And in the first illustration, the degree of certainty of death is not very high (for instance, B could misfire and miss Z altogether). This is quite in contrast with the second scenario where A fires at point-blank range. It is common knowledge that gunshots at point-blank range will almost certainly lead to the death of the injured. Therefore, the degree of certainty of death is very high.

Intention or Knowledge: Both the terms, ‘intention’ and ‘knowledge’ appear in Sections 299 and 300, however having different consequences. Intention and knowledge are used as alternate ingredients to constitute the offence of culpable homicide. However, intention and knowledge are two different things.

The difference between the two came to be considered by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Basdev v. State of Pepsu.[i] In this case, the accused was alleged to have shot a 16-year-old boy in a marriage feast after having gotten drunk. It was his defence that he was so drunk that he did not have the knowledge or intention to kill the boy for what was a trifling incident. The court differentiated between motive, intention and knowledge as follows:

“Motive is something which prompts a man to form an intention. Knowledge is an awareness of the consequences of the act. In many cases, intention and knowledge merge into each other and mean the same thing more or less and intention can be presumed from knowledge. The demarcating line between knowledge and intention is no doubt thin, but it is not difficult to perceive that they connote different things.”

Intention or the mental element in committing the crime is an essential ingredient of culpable homicide/murder. While the intention is a very important element in all crimes, it becomes crucial in cases of culpable homicide/murder because it is the degree of the intention of the accused, which determines the degree of crime. In other words, it is the mental element of the accused alone which is material to decide whether a particular act is culpable homicide/murder.

As far as these two offences are concerned, there are three species or degrees of mens rea present:

1. An intention to cause death

2. An intention to cause a bodily injury that is likely to cause death

3. Knowledge that the act is likely to cause death

“Intention”, in the context of the definition of culpable homicide, does not always necessarily mean pre-meditation or pre-planning to kill a person. The expectation that the act of a person is likely to result in death is sufficient to constitute intention. A man expects the natural consequences of his acts and therefore, in law, he is presumed to intend the consequences of his act. So if a person in performing some acts either

(i) expects death to be the consequence

(ii) expects a dangerous injury to be the consequence

(iii) knows that death is a likely consequence

And in each case death ensues, his intention in the first two cases and his knowledge in the third renders the act a homicide. However, no hard and fast rule can be laid down for determining the existence of intention. Whether intention exists or not is a question of fact. A guilty intention or knowledge is thus essential to the offence under this section.

Landmark Cases on Murder and Culpable Homicide

As stated earlier, it is almost impossible to arrive at a clear cut and watertight definition of murder and culpable homicide by simply going through their definitions as given in the IPC. One has to go through the facts and circumstances of a case before classifying it as murder/culpable homicide. And over the years, there have been various cases in which Indian courts tried to clearly demarcate the differences between the two sections.

Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab[ii]

The accused thrust a spear into the abdomen of the deceased. In the opinion of the doctor, the injury was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. It was found by the Sessions Judge that the accused intended to cause grievous hurt only. In his opinion, however, the third clause of Section 300 of the IPC applied. He accordingly convicted and sentenced the accused under Section 302 of the IPC (punishment for murder). The High Court (hereafter referred to as the HC) upheld the conviction. When the decision was appealed against in the SC, it was argued that the third clause of Section 300 of the IPC did not apply as it was not proved that the accused intended to inflict a bodily injury that was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary cause of nature as the third clause of Section 300 of the IPC states. The court held that for the prosecution of a person under the third clause of Section 300 of the IPC, four requisites have to be proven:

(i) A bodily injury must be present

(ii) The nature of the injury must be proved

(iii) It must be proved that there was an intention to inflict that particular injury (it was not accidental or unintentional)

(iv) It must be proved that the injury inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death of the injured.

And in this particular case, the accused took the defense that he did not intend to cause the death of the person and only intended to inflict a bodily injury. Therefore, he contended that he was liable only for culpable homicide and not for murder. The court dismissed the appeal and held that the accused intended to inflict the injury and it was presumed by the court that the accused knew the consequences of his act.

 Jagriti Devi v. State of Himachal Pradesh[iii]

In this case, the accused-appellant was the legally wedded wife of one Mohinder Singh. Out of the aforesaid wedlock, the accused-appellant gave birth to five children. The husband of the accused-appellant, however, married for a second time and brought the second wife Shanti Devi home who was deceased in the present case. The aforesaid marriage with the deceased-Shanti Devi took place about 2-3 months prior to the date of occurrence of the crime. One day, the husband of the accused-appellant was out of the station. The deceased slept outside the house in veranda that night. When the said deceased was sleeping in the veranda, the accused-appellant assaulted her with a sharp object. A number of blows appeared to have been given on her head and one blow on her neck. The deceased survived for about a few hours of the infliction of the injuries, and thereafter she died. The accused-appellant immediately after committing the crime fled away with the weapon of offence. The accused-appellant was later captured and was charged under Section 302 of the IPC. The accused-appellant did not deny having caused fatal injuries to the deceased, but she stated that she had killed the deceased in the exercise of her right of private defence. The accused-appellant also filed a written statement in which she stated that on a fateful day, there was an altercation between her and the deceased upon which deceased took out the sharp object kept under her pillow and attacked the accused-appellant with the same to which the accused-appellant received some injuries on her head, but luckily through the handle of the sharp object. It was also stated by the accused-appellant that in order to prevent the deceased from further assault, she snatched the sharp object from the deceased and had given a few blows of sharp object to the deceased.

But both the Sessions Court and the HC rejected this claim and prosecuted her under Section 302. And the SC, while hearing the appeal, took into consideration the statement by one of the witnesses that they had seen the deceased attacking the accused-appellant first. It was also established in evidence that the said sharp object was kept by the deceased under her pillow while she was sleeping in the veranda outside the house. It was also further established from the records that the accused-appellant also received some injuries on her head which of course were of simple nature. But the prosecution had not given any explanation in their case regarding those injuries received by the accused-appellant. This led to the SC accepting the accused-appellants claim of the right of private defence. The SC also noted there was no intention on the part of the accused-appellant to kill the deceased. The SC set aside the conviction under Section 302 IPC. The court held the accused-appellant to be guilty of culpable homicide and was convicted under Section 304 of the IPC (punishment for culpable homicide).

Here are some 5 important difference between Murder and Culpable Homicide

Sr NoCulpable Homicide (Section 299)Murder (Section 300)
1A person commits culpable homicide, if the act by which death is caused is done.Subject to certain exceptions, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done.
2With the intention of causing death.With the intention of causing death.
3With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death. With the intention of causing such bodily injury to any person, and the bodily injury, as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused.
4With the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death.With the intention of causing bodily injury to any person, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.
5With the knowledge that the act is dangerous, but does not cause death in all probability, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and committed without any excuse for incurring the risk or causing death or such injury as aforesaid.With the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and committed without any excuse for incurring the risk or causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Endnotes

[i] AIR 1956 SC 488

[ii] AIR 1958 SC 465

[iii] 3 (2009) 14 SCC 771 10

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Giri Aravind

Student, National University of Advanced Legal Studies

Giri is a huge finance buff. An enthusiast of IP, corporate law, he is a writer by day and a reader by night.  For any Clarifications, feedback, and suggestion, you can reach him at giriaravindonline@gmail.com

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