Clauses 1-4 of Section 300 provide the essential ingredients, wherein culpable homicide amounts to murder. Section 300 after laying down the cases in which culpable homicide becomes murder, states certain exceptional situations under which, if murder is committed, it is reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under section 304, IPC and not under section 302, IPC.
The exceptions are:
- Grave and Sudden Provocation;
- Private Defence;
- Exercise of Legal Power;
- Without Premeditation in a sudden fight; and
The above stated extenuating circumstances do not offer a complete vindication of the conduct of the accused. But they do reduce the impact of gravity of the offense since dictates of humanity and reason prescribe such cases as fit grounds for mitigation.
Exception I – Grave and Sudden Provocation as mitigation
Exception 1. Section 302 of The Indian Penal Code – When culpable homicide is not murder.
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.
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 public servant.
Thirdly.— That the provocation is not given by anything done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defence.
Explanation.— Whether the provocation was grave and sudden enough to prevent the offence from amounting to murder is a question of fact.
(a) A, under the influence of passion excited by a provocation given by Z, intentionally kills Y, Z‘s child. This is murder, inasmuch as the provocation was not given by the child, and the death of the child was not caused by accident or misfortune in doing an act caused by the provocation.
(b) Y gives grave and sudden provocation to A. A, on this provocation, fires a pistol at Y, neither intending nor knowing himself to be likely to kill Z, who is near him, but out of sight. A kills Z. Here A has not committed murder, but merely culpable homicide.
(c) A is lawfully arrested by Z, a bailiff. A is excited to sudden and violent passion by the arrest, and kills Z. This is murder, inasmuch as the provocation was given by a thing done by a public servant in the exercise of his powers.
Essentials – The following conditions must be complied with in order to invoke the benefits of this clause:-
- The deceased must have given provocation to the accused.
- The provocation must be grave.
- The provocation must be sudden.
- The offender, by reason of the said provocation, should have been deprived of his power of self-control.
- The accused killed the deceased during the continuance of the deprivation of the power of self-control.
- The offender must have caused the death of the person who gave the provocation or that of any other person by mistake or accident.
The Supreme Court in K.M. Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra (AIR 1962 SC 605), has extensively discussed the law relating to provocation in India and observed that –
- The test of “grave and sudden” provocation is whether a reasonable man, belonging to the same class to society as accused, placed in the situation in which the accused was placed would be so provoked as to lose his self-control.
- Words and gestures may also, under certain circumstances, cause grave and sudden provocation to an accused so as to bring his act under exception.
- The mental background created by the previous act of the victim may be taken into consideration in ascertaining whether the subsequent act caused grave and sudden provocation for committing the offence; and
- The fatal blow should be clearly traced to the influence of passion arising from the provocation and not after the passion has cooled down by lapse of time, or otherwise giving the accused room and scope for premeditation and calculation.
The Supreme Court in Muthu vs State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 2008 SC 1) held that constant harassment may lead to deprivation of the power of self-control amounting to a grave and sudden provocation.
Exception II – Exceeding the Right of Private Defence
Exception 2 deals with those cases wherein a person exceeds the right of private defence. If the excess is intentional, the offence is murder, if unintentional, it is culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Exception II. Section 302 of The Indian Penal Code
Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, in the exercise in good faith of the right of private defence of person or property, exceeds the power given to him by law and causes the death of the person against whom he is exercising such right of defence without premeditation, and without any intention of doing more harm than is necessary for the purpose of such defence.
Z attempts to horsewhip A, not in such a manner as to cause grievous hurt to A. A draws out a pistol. Z persists in the assault. A believing in good faith that he can by no other means prevent himself from being horsewhipped, shoots Z dead. A has not committed murder, but only culpable homicide.
In Nathan vs State of Madras (AIR 1973 SC 665), where the landlord tried to evict the accused forcefully and accused in exercise of his right of private defence killed the deceased. The deceased party was not armed with any deadly weapons so there couldn’t have been any fear of death or grievous hurt on the part of the accused. The right of accused was limited to cause any harm other than death. There was no intention to cause death, it was therefore held that the accused exceeded his right of private defence and the case would fall under Exception 2 to Section 300. And the offence committed by the accused was held to be culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Exception III – Public servants exceeding his powers
This exception has been provided to protect a public servant or a person aiding a public servant if either of them exceeds the power given for the advancement of public justice. The exception clause will not apply if the act is illegal or against public policy and not authorised by law, or the person glaringly exceeds the power given to him by law.
Exception III. Section 302 of The Indian Penal Code
Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public servant or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.
In Dukhi Singh vs State (AIR 1955 All 379), the appellant a constable of the RFF (Railway Protection Force), while on duty killed a fireman unintentionally. He fired the bullet shots in order to catch the escaping thief. The constable was entitled to the benefit of this section.
Exception IV — Sudden Fight
This exception applies to cases wherein death is caused in a sudden fight without premeditation in the heat of passion in a sudden quarrel; so long as the fight is unpremeditated and sudden, the accused, irrespective of his conduct before the quarrel, earns the mitigation provided for in Exception 4 to Section 300, IPC. Subject to the condition that he did not in the course of fight take undue advantage of or act in a cruel or unusual manner. (Public Prosecutor vs Soma Sundaram, AIR 1959 Mad 323)
Exception IV. Section 302 of The Indian Penal Code
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 offenders having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.
Explanation — It is immaterial in such cases which party offers the provocation or commits the first assault.
Essential Ingredients – To invoke the benefits of this clause, death must be caused:
- In a sudden fight;
- In the heat of passion without premeditation, arising out of sudden quarrel;
- Without the offenders having taken undue advantage;
- The offender should not act in a cruel or unusual manner; and
- The fight must have been with the person killed. [Narayanan Nair vs State of Travancore, AIR 1956 SC 99]
Exception V – Consent
The last exception to Section 300, IPC deals with causing death by consent which is commonly known as euthanasia (mercy killing). The exception is justified on the grounds that a man’s life is not only valuable to himself, but also to the family members, state, and society. A man is therefore not entitled to give up his life by consent; though consent has unquestionably the effect of mitigating the intensity of crime, it cannot exonerate the offender.
Exception V. Section 300 of The Indian Penal Code
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.
A, by instigation, voluntarily causes Z, a person under eighteen years of age, to commit suicide. Here, on account of Z‘s youth, he was incapable of giving consent to his own death; A has therefore abetted murder.
Essential ingredients of this exception are:-
- By person above age of eighteen years, and
- Consent must be free and voluntary.
Consent should be unconditional and without any reservation. And it must be unequivocal. Where the accused killed his stepfather who was an infirm, old and invalid man, with the latter’s consent. It was held that the offense was covered by the Exception 5 to Section 300 and punishable under the first part of Section 304 (Ujagar Singh, AIR 1918 Lah 145)
Author – Mayank Shekhar
- K.D. Gaur, Textbook on Indian Penal Code, Fifth Edition 2014
- Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, Indian Penal Code, Thirty-Fifth Edition
- SCC Online