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Culpable Homicide v. Murder

“All murders are culpable homicide but not all culpable homicides are murders” – a very common phrase used to establish the difference between culpable homicide and murder. In the scheme of the Penal Code, “Culpable Homicide” is the Genus and ”Murder” its specie.

By: Antalina Guha, Ajeenkya DY Patil University.

Introduction

The main components which are required to term any act as a crime are “actus rea” and “mens rea”. If either of the two is missing, the said act does not fall under the category of crime. While talking about the two important sections of the Indian Penal Code, it is mandatory to know their definition as most times they seem quite similar to each other. 

The word ‘Homicide’ is derived from the Latin term ‘homo’ meaning man and ‘cide’ meaning cut. The term refers to the act of killing of a human being by another. The Indian Penal Code categorises homicide into lawful and unlawful homicide.

  • Lawful Homicide- It includes all the cases that fall under Sections 76-106 of the Indian Penal Code
  • Unlawful Homicide- It includes the cases that fall under Section 299-318 of the Indian Penal Code 

What is Culpable Homicide?

According to Section 299, IPC:

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.

What is Murder?

Murder can be defined as the gravest form of culpable homicide. According to Section 300, IPC:

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.

The Thin Line Demarcating Section 299 and 300

The reason we often refer to Section 299 and Section 300 as an overlapping offence is due to the difficulty in differentiating them. However, there is a thin borderline difference between the sections.

Culpable Homicide is the genus of which murder is the species. All murders are culpable homicide but all culpable homicides are not murders. The most ambiguous aspect is that of the ‘intention’. Both provisions specify the presence of the intention to cause death. Therefore now, the degree of the intention of the offenders comes into consideration.

If a person commits the act without any excuse, having knowledge that the act will cause death, then the act falls under the category of murder. On the other hand, a person who is killed in a sudden fight or in a sudden anger because of somebody’s grave and sudden provocation or instigation, then such death is considered as culpable homicide.

Hence, whether the act was done is culpable homicide or murder is a question of the facts of the case.

There are certain mechanisms to differentiate the concept of murder and culpable homicide, the difference is latent with the term of the seriousness of intention, the major difference is in the degree of culpability and in Section 299 the word ‘likely’ is used which refers to the probability which amounts to culpable homicide, and in Section 300 the word ‘sufficient’ is used, which, in the ordinary course of nature will cause death. When the degree of probability of death is high it falls under the ambit of murder and when the degree is less, it falls under the ambit of culpable homicide.

The other major difference is that ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Intention’ must not be confused.

‘Knowledge’ is an indication of a bare state of conscious awareness of some facts in which human mind might itself remain inactive whereas ‘Intention’ connotes a conscious state in which mental faculties are roused into activity and summed up into action for the deliberate purpose of being directed towards a particular and specific end which the human mind conceives and perceives before itself.

Intention need not necessarily involve premeditation. Existence of such an intention or not is a question of fact. The existence of one of prime ingredient of Section 300 turns the crime into murder whereas the exceptions to murder turns the crime into a Culpable homicide which does not amount to Murder.

Case Laws

Through the case of Reg. v. Govinda, a clear distinction was drawn between culpable homicide and murder. According to the facts of the case, there was a quarrel between a husband and a wife in a fit of anger the husband knocked the wife. The wife became unconscious and the husband, in order to wake the wife punched her with closed palms but unfortunately, the wife died because of internal bleeding in her brain. Herein, Melvil J, held that the man was liable under Section 299 of IPC because clearly there was no intention to cause death and the act was not grave enough to cause death on the spot.

The academic distinction between ‘murder’ and ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ has vexed the Court for more than a century. The safest way to approach to the interpretation and application of these provisions seem to be, keep in focus the keywords used in the various clauses of Section 299 and 300. The following comparative table will be helpful in distinguishing the two offences.

Section 299A person commits culpable homicide if the act by which the death is caused is done-Section 300 subject to certain exceptions culpable homicide is murder if the act by which death is caused is done-
With the intention of causing death with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause deathWith the intention of causing death 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 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
knowledge with the knowledge that the act is likely to cause deathWith 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 without any excuse or incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as in mentioned above

Conclusion

‘Culpable homicide’ and ‘Murder’ are two overlapping yet distinct offences. Though on a plain reading of the provisions, it appears that the cases can be conveniently classified into the two categories but when it comes to the actual application of these two sections in a given case, the courts are often confronted with the dilemma of culpable homicide and murder. Since there is no common line difference between them it will depend from case to case, it’s the judge who plays the most crucial role in such cases.

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