This article talks about culpable homicide and murder. It gives a detailed explanation about what are the sections pertaining to said topics in the Indian Penal Code, its essentials and respective case laws for a better understanding. The doctrine of transferred Malice, distinction, as well as similarities of Culpable Homicide and Murder, is explained as there lies very minimal differentiation between the two.
I. Culpable Homicide
Homicide is a Latin terminology in which ‘homi’ means human and ‘cido’ means to cut or injury. This literally means to kill a human being through another being. So, the homicide term is a generic one to mean the demise of a person by another person or a human species. This does not mean all homicides are unlawful. There are two types in homicide i.e., Lawful and Unlawful.
Culpable Homicide is an unlawful homicide. Chapter XVI of IPC deals with offences affecting the human body.
299. 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
300. Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended.—If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to he likely to cause.
Essentials of Culpable Homicide
The following are the essentials of culpable homicide –
- There must be “death of a person”
- Death must be “caused by an act of another”
- The act must be “coupled with the intention of causing death”
- “or bodily injuries which are likely to cause death”
- “or knowledge which is likely that such an act would cause death”
Hence, if the above essentials are satisfied then the person is said to be committed culpable homicide.
1. Death caused by an act/omission
The first and foremost essential which must be satisfied to constitute a culpable homicide is that there must be death or an injury likely dangerous to end a life caused by any act or omission of another. If the death occurs not by that said act or omission then such offence is not culpable homicide. Thus, the act or omission of the accused must be the direct cause of the death of the victim.
For example, if A shoots B and B dies due to that, it is said to be a culpable homicide as the shooting of A caused the death of B.
Further, if A shoots B and B who is injured is being treated in a hospital and dies due to some disorder, disease or bodily infirmity while being treated also amounts to culpable homicide. This situation shows that A’s shooting is not a direct cause but eventually caused the death of B is also covered under this category. Furthermore, if in a similar situation B is not treated well and dies due to injury caused by A by shooting, then that too amounts to culpable homicide.
The act specifies that the death caused to a baby inside the womb of a mother is not covered by this section, as it is not born yet. But if the baby is even partly out of the womb and then the death is caused, it is culpable homicide.
- In the case of Moti Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the accused shot two gunshots and caused wounds to the deceased named Gayacharan. These wounds were shot in the abdomen and were said to be dangerous to his life. The injury was caused on 9th of February, 1960 and further, the recovery of his wounds or injury was not confirmed due to lack of evidence for the same. He eventually died on 1st of March, 1960 and the body was not postmortem before the cremation was done. This leads to the question of law that, would the situation be covered under the offence of culpable homicide.
The supreme court held that the fact that the gunshot wounds or injuries are dangerous to life won’t be sufficient for the constitution of culpable homicide, even though the death occurred only three weeks after the injuries being inflicted. The court sought for evidence to be shown that the death was caused due to those injuries or that the injuries were a part reason for the death of the deceased.
Due to lack of the same, the court held that they cannot hold the accused as responsible for the death of Gayacharan and stated that the nexus between the main cause of injuries and the death of the deceased should not be too remote in nature.
- In another case of Rewa Ram v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the victim, Gyanvatibai was the wife of the accused who caused multiple injuries to her by using a knife. She was being treated in a hospital and further operated. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with hyperpyrexia and due to which her death occurred. She was postmortem and results said the death was not caused due to injuries rather by hyperpyrexia.
The high court of Madhya Pradesh relied upon section 299 and its explanation 2 for a better understanding of the given situation. Hence, the court opined that though the injuries were not a direct cause but were a part reason to the occurrence of her death and held the accused responsible and conviction took place.
2. Intention of the Person
The next essential which is the main difference between lawful homicide and unlawful homicide is men rea. It is the mental element which is fundamental to constitute a crime or an offence. Culpable Homicide requires the accused to have “an intention to cause death or the intention to cause bodily injuries which will lead to death”.
Presence of intention is a factual based question and depends upon the circumstances of each case and actions of the accused. But in general terms intention means a pre-mediation and predetermination of a person to kill the other person or to cause deadly injuries to the other person. Further, if anyone anticipates that his/her/their act would lead to consequences which would cause death or injuries which are likely to cause death, it would be knowledge.
3. Knowledge of the Person
The section adopts a view wherein there is scope even the knowledge of the person about the consequences of his act can cause death of any other person or cause bodily injuries which are likely to cause death, to constitute intention.
This mental element, may not be premeditated or pre-determined but may be derived from the awareness of the accused with respect to consequences of his acts or omissions. This is well explained in the case of Basdev v. State of Pepsu, where the court distinguished intention and knowledge –
“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.”
Thus, it depends upon the guilty mind of the accused to be aware or have knowledge that his act would have consequences which are highly probable that it would cause death or deadly injuries.
Who is responsible?
The act says that if an accused causes an act or omission which lead to the death of the other person is said to have committed culpable homicide and for which intention and/or anticipation of probability of death plays a major role. But what if, one person is killed but the death is intended to be caused to some other?
Further, what if the accused killed a person having no intention but does so due to abatement by another? The act also clears these things in the section itself.
Killing of a person not intended so:
To understand this situation the section provides with few illustrations and one of the illustrations to section 299 deals with such a situation. The sections 299 to 311 gives us various kinds of culpable homicides and punishments for the same.
The illustration (a) of section 299 which says “A lays sticks and turf over a pit, with the intention of thereby causing death, or with the knowledge that death is likely to be thereby caused. Z, believing the ground to be firm, treads on it, falls in and is killed. A has committed the offence of culpable homicide.” This shows that even though A did not intend to kill any particular person, and if someone falls prey for it, then it amounts to culpable homicide.
Apart from that, section 301 which says “Culpable homicide by causing the death of a person other than the person whose death was intended.—
If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to he likely to cause”, can be applied and hold guilty of culpable homicide.
This is considered as culpable homicide not amounting to murder and made punishable under section 304.
Doctrine of transferred Malice
This is a principle used by the court of law known as “Doctrine of Transferred Malice” where the malice is assumed to be present in the mind of the accused to seek evidence of his intention and in the absence of the same, it remains culpable homicide and not murder.
It shows that intention of a person is a question of fact and what can be considered as a mitigating factor here, is the absence of such intention to cause such death or bodily injuries which are likely to cause death. In such a scenario, one will be held guilty for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” and murder if is otherwise.
- In the case of Gurmail Singh v. State of Punjab, an argument took place between two people for indecent jokes aimed at the wife of the first person. When the fights began between the two people along with other accused involved, the deceased went ahead to stop and intercede in between the fights. Due to which the accused who intended to hit the other person, did so to the deceased and thereby caused his death.
The supreme court was deciding as to whether this amount to murder as accused by the aggrieved parties or culpable homicide not amounting to murder? The court decided that the accused had no enmity towards the deceased and further there was no evidence provided to prove the intention of the accused. Thus, even if the malice is transferred to the accused, he cannot be held as a murderer of the deceased and hence was convicted and punished under section 304 rather than section 302.
- In another situation where the accused aims at one person but kills the other will also amount to culpable homicide but not murder. In the case of Kashi Ram v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused aimed to shoot at one person but it hit the other person and he was killed.
In such a situation, even though the supreme court applied the doctrine of transferred malice, they observed that the accused never aimed to kill the deceased and hence there was no intention or evidence for the same. This was again decided to be amounting to punishment under section 304 and not section 302.
II. Other kinds of Culpable Homicide:
There are other kinds of culpable homicide and their punishment within section 299 to 311, which are discussed in brief as follows-
In section 300, it talks about “Murder” which is known as “culpable homicide coupled with act intended to cause death or bodily injuries intended to cause death”. This involves the mental element i.e., mens rea to the cause of death to any person. Its essentials and exceptions will be explained in detail in the later part of this article.
Death caused due to Rash/Negligent Behaviour
Section 304A says “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” This section covers the death caused by a doctor for being negligent, a motor vehicle driver due to rash driving etc.
The conviction under this section requires the proof of rash or negligent behaviour which depends upon the circumstances of each case. It requires that there is an overt act and it is rash or negligent whose consequences are not expected to be so evil. It is comparatively different to one which causes death with no intention to do so. Thus, if there is a lack of proper care and caution then the person can be convicted under this section.
The section 304B says that –
“304B. Dowry death.—(1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
Explanation.—For the purposes of this subsection, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life]”.
This is another kind of culpable homicide and can be amounting to murder if the circumstantial evidence support for the same and made punishable accordingly by the court of law.
Abatement to commit Culpable Homicide
Under section 299 illustration (b) which says “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.” Hence, by virtue of this illustration, the abater can be made punishable for culpable homicide and the main offender can be held not guilty in the absence of intention and/or knowledge when the act is done with proper care and caution and not by negligence.
Abatement to Commit Suicide
This is another form of culpable homicide, wherein the main offender is abated by one person to commit suicide. The Indian penal code gives us two kinds of the same i.e., under section 305 which says –
“Abetment of suicide of child or insane person.—If any person under eighteen years of age, any insane person, any delirious person, any idiot, or any person in a state of intoxication, commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with death or [imprisonment for life], or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
And under section 306 which says – “Abetment of suicide.—If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Attempt to Commit Culpable Homicide
Under the section 308 it says that “Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both;
..and, if the hurt is caused to any person by such act, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.” So, even the attempt of the culpable homicide is made punishable under the Indian penal code.
The law requires the “cause of death or bodily injuries likely to cause death” to be inflicted upon the bodies of living beings and does not punish them if they are caused to lifeless bodies. And further one cannot be made guilty of culpable homicide if the same is intended to be caused to lifeless beings.
In the case of Palani Goundan v. Emperor, the accused gave a blow to his wife, who fell unconscious. The accused believed her to be death and hung her upon a beam using a rope to make it seem as a case of suicide.
Due to strangulation, the wife died, which the court observed to be not an offence of culpable homicide. As the accused did an act which caused death intended towards a lifeless body, which at least was believed so by the accused. This was an exception to the case of culpable homicide but the accused was punished for trying to erase the evidence and framing false defence of suicide. 
Burden of Proof
The burden of proving the case, generally lies upon the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But when the case is covered by the exceptions under section 300, then the burden of proof lies upon the accused to prove that one’s case is an exception.
Further, before the burden falls upon the accused, the prosecution is required to prove the foundation facts so as to create a doubt in the minds of judges.
The Indian penal code provides for what is murder and its exceptions in section 300, which says:
“300. 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—
2ndly.—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—
3rdly.—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— 4thly.—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.”
Murder is defined with respect to culpable homicide. It is said to be the death of a person which is coupled with the intention of causing death to that person and must fall within any of the four clauses above.
Essentials of Murder
When can culpable homicide amount to murder is as follows-
- When there is “intention to cause death”
- When there is “intention to cause bodily injury, which is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death”
- When there is “knowledge that the act done is imminently dangerous that in all probability it will cause death or bodily injuries which is likely to cause death or does that act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury”.
If the act so was done is meeting the essentials it is said to be murder.
1. Intention to Cause Death
The section 300 clause (1), says when an act or omission is coupled with the intention to cause death or bodily injuries which are likely to cause death by the said act or omission is known to be murder. The mental element which is the intention is an important aspect here and decides whether that act was amounting to murder or not.
The intention of the accused can be understood by understanding his deliberations and overt acts. The giving of poison, inflicting injuries to the essential parts of the body which are required for survival, the omission of warning a person about the presence of a danger which is likely to cause death are some of the overt acts which show the intention to cause death or cause deadly injury to that person.
In the case of Vasanth v. State of Maharashtra, the accused and the deceased had enmity towards each other. During a fight, the accused who was enraged started his vehicle and drove in the opposite direction. It hit the deceased and killed him as the vehicle went upon him.
The court observed that the circumstances were such that even in a deserted wide road, the accused drove in the wrong direction and caused the death. This shows the intention of the accused to kill the deceased.
2. Intention to Cause Bodily injury with knowledge of causing death
Section 300(2) says that there must be “intention to cause bodily injury” which the accused knows to cause death due to injury. Here, two things are required i.e., intention as well as the knowledge that the injury is likely to cause death to the injured.
Now, knowing or awareness as to the consequences of the act is very subjective in nature and varies as each human possesses varied perspectives. Hence, the court of law, for the sake of justice, obtains an objective point of view to see what can be the consequences of the act done by the accused and whether the same can be inferred by the overt acts of the person who is accused of said crime.
This objective test is based upon the wording of clause 3 of section 300 which requires an objective perspective to interpret the understanding of the term “knowledge”. And further, the word “likely” in clause 2 is interpreted to be confirmed the death of the victim and not a mere probability. Thus, the degree of probability is set high so as to understand the term “likely to cause death”.
In the case of Willie Slaney v. State of Madhya Pradesh, a quarrel took place between accused, his brother with that of the deceased, as the accused loved the deceased’s sister which he did not appreciate. There was a rigorous argument between them and the accused, due to rage, took the hockey stick which the brother of the accused was holding, hit on the head of the deceased.
Due to this, the deceased incurred a skull injury and subsequently died. The supreme court observed that the act which was done was likely to cause death and whose knowledge was absent as the accused did not know that his act was such that it would end a life. Hence, they ruled that it is not murder but a case falling under section 304, IPC.
3. Intention to cause bodily injury which is sufficient to cause death, in the ordinary course of nature
The clause 3 of section 300 requires that there must be “an intention to cause injury”, and “that particular injury is such that in an ordinary course of nature is sufficient to cause death”. Here, the law does not require any knowledge of the accused as it is objective in nature and what it requires mainly is an intention to cause a particular bodily injury to be proved as it depends upon the circumstantial evidence.
Further, as the section 300 as a whole depicts that the probability of death to be high so is the term “sufficient” interpreted as the extremely high probability that such injury would cause death.
When the intention is established, then only the other essentials can be proved. In the case of Laxman Kalu Nikalje v. State of Maharashtra, due to quarrel between the deceased and the accused, there was the death of the deceased. The death was caused due to infliction of injury with a sharp weapon in the vital parts of the deceased.
The supreme court held that in the absence of evidence that the injury was caused with the intention of the accused, it is not murder. Hence, intention plays a vital role.
4. Knowledge as to the act being imminently dangerous to life
In section 300(4), law “does not require any intention to cause injury to any particular person”. but the only thing required is that “the person who does an act is aware or has knowledge that one’s act is so dangerous that it has high probability to cause death or bodily injury which is highly probable to likely to cause death with no excuse to incur such a risk”.
In the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v Ram Prasad, it was held that husband poured kerosene on his wife and set her ablaze due to quarrel taking place. The wife suffered serious injuries and subsequently died.
This was observed by the supreme court to be a case of murder as the intention of the accused being unnecessary in clause 4 of section unlike other clauses, it was only required to prove that he had knowledge. Thus, the knowledge of the act that burning a person live is sufficient to cause death or the injuries caused thereof would lead to death was present in this case, which constituted culpable homicide amounting to murder.
Exceptions in section 300
The exceptions given in section 300 gives us an understanding as to when can culpable homicide does not amount to murder. Every case of murder can fall under any of the five exceptions as provided in the section. The following are the exceptions-
- Exception 1 – “Grave and Sudden Provocation”
- Exception 2 – “Private Defence”
- Exception 3 – “Acts of Public Servant”
- Exception 4 – “Sudden Fight”
- Exception 5 – “Consent”
These are the five exceptions applicable only to section 300 i.e., murder as well as culpable homicide and are considered as “specific exceptions” and are different from general exceptions provided in Chapter IV i.e., section 76 to 106.
The exceptions under section 300 are just to be used as mitigating factors and does not hold the accused or convict completely non-guilty. They are applicable only when the intention or the mental element has been proved by the prosecution and the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt established.
- Grave and Sudden Provocation: Under this exception, the accused may plead that his act does not amount to murder but is due to loss of self-control as a result of which the death occurred.
- Private Defence: This is a defence available under general defences under this code, however, if such defence exceeds it constitutes culpable homicide but may be out of the ambit of murder. In this, it is pleaded by the accused of causing death of a person and has a valid reason to do so. Under private defence, death is caused to protect one’s life and property and also to protect neighbour’s life and property. So, if the accused exceeds the defence and causes harm more than from what is required, it amounts to a special exception under section 300. The most important thing to notice is the good faith of the accused.
- Act of Public Servant: This exception is allowed to a public servant who acts in good faith and exceeds his lawful capacity. If such a public servant while discharging his authorised duties causes the death of any person can plead this special case as an exception.
- Sudden Fight: This case, where a death is caused due to a sudden fight i.e., where there is no intention or which is not premeditated, is applicable. Here, the grave and sudden provocation which is mutual is necessary and no requirement of loss of control on oneself by any person which is a necessity in exception 1.
- Consent: In this case, it is not a case of murder if the death is consented by the deceased or the victim who is aged above 18 years old. this exception mostly depends upon the circumstances of the case and considers the request or consent to be valid or not.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof when one is accused of murder is upon the prosecution, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Once the prosecution sets off its burden then it is shifted upon the accused to prove that his case falls within any of the exceptions given in section 300.
The accused even then has only to prove the case on the preponderance of probabilities. If he fails to do so he is convicted of murder otherwise he is charged with culpable homicide.
IV. Difference between Culpable Homicide and Murder
Culpable Homicide is like a genus and murder is one of its kind, i.e., species. The former is less serious in nature when compared to the latter. The main difference lies in the intent or the mental element. That is, if an act is intentional and such it causes death and is intended towards a particular person then it is murder whereas in culpable homicide it is different.
It requires that the death be caused due to an act of the accused irrespective of whether that person had intention directed towards that particular person or not. Another difference would be that the “knowledge” is differently interpreted in both cases.
Under section 300 the probability of cause of death and its knowledge is set so high while it is lesser in case of culpable homicide. It is obvious that if there is a high risk to human life due to an act coupled with intention and/or knowledge then it is a case of murder, otherwise, it is culpable homicide.
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