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Culpable Homicide and Murder

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

Distinction between Culpable Homicide and Murder

  • In the scheme of the Penal Code, ‘culpable homicide’ is genus and ‘murder’ its species. All ‘murder’ is ‘culpable homicide’ but not vice versa. Speaking generally ‘culpable homicide’ is ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

  • For the purpose of fixing punishment, proportionate to the gravity of this generic offence, the Code recognizes three degrees of culpable homicide. (a) Culpable homicide of first degree - gravest form of culpable homicide i.e. murder under Sec. 300, punishable under Sec. 302. (b) Culpable homicide of second degree - punishable under the 1st part of Sec. 304. (c) Culpable homicide of third degree - punishable under the 2nd part of Sec. 304 (lowest punishment).

  • The safest way of approach to the interpretation and application of these provisions, as suggested by the Supreme Court, is to keep in focus the key words used in the various clauses of Secs. 299 and 300 (State o/A.P. v R. Punnayya, AIR 1977 SC 45).

Key word of Sec.300 and Sec. 299

  • The first clause of Sec. 300 reproduces the first part of Sec. 299, therefore ordinarily if the case comes within cl. (a) of Sec. 299, it would amount to murder

  • Clause (b) of Sec. 299 corresponds with Clause (2) and of Sec. 300. Tie distinguishing feature-of the mens rea requisite under clause (2) is the knowledge possessed by the offender regarding the particular victim being in such a peculiar condition or state of health (e.g. enlarged spleen) that the intentional harm caused is likely to be fatal, notwithstanding the fact that such harm would not in the ordinary way of nature be sufficient to cause death of a person in normal health ( illustration (b) to Sec 300) Clause (b) of See. 299 does not postulate any such knowledge on the part of the offender. Thus, if the assailant had no knowledge about the disease of the victim, nor an intention to cause death or bodily injury sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, the offence will not be murder, even if the injury which caused the death, was intentionally given.

  • In Clause (3) of Sec. 300 instead of the words ‘likely to cause death’, occurring in the corresponding clause (b) of Sec. 299, the words 'sufficient in the ordinary course of nature’ has been used. The decision of most of the doubtful cases depends on a comparison of these two clauses.

The distinction is fine but appreciable; it is one of the degree of probability or likelihood of death resulting from the intended bodily injury. To put it more broadly, it is the degree of probability of death which determines whether a culpable homicide is of gravest, medium or the lowest degree. The word ‘likely’ in cl. (b) of Sec. 299 conveys the sense of ‘probable’ as distinguished from a mere possibility.

The words ‘bodily injury...sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death’ mean that death will be the ‘most probable’ result of the injury. The expression does not mean that death must result

Commenting on the distinction between Sec. 299 (b) and Sec. 300 (3), Melvill, J. observed: “Practically it will generally resolve itself into a consideration of the nature of the weapon used. A blow from the fist or stick on a vital part may be likely to cause death; a wound from a sword in a vital part is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

  • Similarly, cl. (c) of Sec. 299 and cl. (4) of Sec. 300 uses such distinction. Both apply to cases in which there is no intention to cause death or bodily injury but knowledge that the act is dangerous and therefore likely to cause death. Both clauses require knowledge of the probability of the act causing death. Cl. (4) requires knowledge in a very high degree of probability.

Whether the offence is culpable homicide or murder, depends upon the degree of risk to human life. If death is likely result, it is culpable homicide; if it is the most probable result, it is murder. Firing at a target near the public road may be an act which is known to be likely to cause death and the liability would, therefore, be for culpable homicide. But firing in a crowd of men would be an act which must be said to be known as imminently dangerous act and if the act was done without any excuse for incurring the risk, the liability would be for murder.

Conclusion from above Discussion

From the above conspectus it emerges that whenever a court is confronted with the question of whether a killing is murder or culpable homicide, it will be convenient to approach the problem in 3 stages -

In first stage, proof of causal connection between the act and death is determined.

In second stage, it is determined whether the act of the accused amounts to ‘culpable homicide’. If the answer is ‘yes’, then the third stage is reached.

In third stage, it is determined whether the act is ‘murder' e.g. case within the ambit of four clauses of Sec. 300. If the answer is negative, then the offence would be ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ punishable under the first or second part of Sec. 304, depending on whether the second or third clause of Sec. 299 is applicable.

If the answer is positive but the case comes within any of the exceptions enumerated in Sec. 300, the offence would still be ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ under the first part of Sec. 304 (State of A.P. v R. Punnayya, AIR 1977 SC 45).

In Vineet Kumar Chauhan v State ofU.P. , the accused and victims were neighbours and there occurred an altercation between accused and family members of victim. The accused returned fo his house in a huff, took revolver and fired discriminately towards victim’s house. The victim while trying to close door of his house was hit by the bullet which proved fatal. It was held that accused at best can be said to have knowledge that use of revolver was likely to cause death and hence he is liable to be convicted under Sec. 299, cl. (c) and not under Sec. 300.

Previous year optional questions:

1. "There is a thin line difference between the offences of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder because the difference is merely a question of degree of probability of death ensuing." In the light of the above statement explain the distinction between clause (2) of Sec. 299 and clause (3) of Sec. 300 with the help of illustrations and decided cases.

2. In the scheme of the Penal Code, “culpable homicide" is the genus and "murder* its species. All murder is culpable homicide but not vice versa.

3. Bring out the distinction between Sea 299 and Sec. 300 of the I.P.C.


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