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Murder (IPC S.300/BNS S.99) and its Exceptions

Updated: Jun 1

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines murder with reference to culpable homicide as defined in Section 299. In Newly Enacted BNS correspoding sections are Section 98(Culbable Homicide) and Section 99 (Murder) Respectively.


Murder and its exception(BNS and IPC)

This legal framework establishes the parameters within which an act of culpable homicide can be elevated to the graver offense of murder. According to Section 300, culpable homicide amounts to murder if certain specific requirements provided in clauses 1-4 are fulfilled.


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The case law of R v. Govinda provides insight into the application of intention in determining murder. In this case, the accused, Govinda, stabbed the victim multiple times with a knife, resulting in his death. The court held that Govinda's actions demonstrated clear intention, satisfying the criteria for murder under Section 300 of the IPC.


Moreover, Section 300 also stipulates exceptions wherein culpable homicide does not amount to murder. The case of State of Maharashtra v. Mohd. Yakub illustrates the application of the exception of sudden fight in the heat of passion.


In this case, the accused, Mohd. Yakub, engaged in a sudden altercation with the victim, resulting in the victim's death. The court ruled that since the act was committed in the heat of passion without premeditation and without taking undue advantage, it fell within the exception and was not considered murder under Section 300.


Furthermore, consent plays a significant role in determining whether culpable homicide amounts to murder under the IPC. The case of State of West Bengal v. Krishnadhan Bhowmick provides an example of this principle in action. In this case, the accused, Krishnadhan Bhowmick, assisted a woman in committing suicide by hanging herself. The court held that since the woman was above eighteen years of age and had consented to the act, it did not amount to murder under Section 300 of the IPC.


INTENTIONALLY CAUSING DEATH


Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) delineates the various circumstances under which culpable homicide amounts to murder. Clause (1) of Section 300 deals with the most direct and straightforward form of murder: when an act is done with the intention of causing death.


This clause establishes that if an individual commits an act with the explicit purpose of ending another person's life, it constitutes culpable homicide amounting to murder. Intent, being a state of mind, is typically inferred from external manifestations, such as the nature and severity of the act itself.


In the landmark case of Vasanth v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court dealt with a scenario where the accused deliberately ran over the victim with his jeep, resulting in the victim's death. Despite the absence of a direct confession of intent, the court inferred the accused's intention to cause death from his actions.


The deliberate and reckless manner in which the accused drove his vehicle towards the victim, coupled with the absence of any justifiable reason for doing so, led the court to conclude that the accused had a clear intention to kill.


It is noteworthy that Clause (1) of Section 300 mirrors the language of Clause (1) of Section 299, both of which pertain to acts done with the intention of causing death. Consequently, an act falling under Clause (1) of Section 300 also qualifies as culpable homicide under Clause (1) of Section 299. This overlap underscores the gravity of intent in determining the severity of the offense.


INTENTIONAL CAUSING OF BODILY INJURY WITH KNOWLEDGE THAT IT WILL CAUSE DEATH


Clause (2) of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertains to situations where an individual intentionally causes bodily injury with the knowledge that such injury is likely to cause the death of the victim.


This clause introduces a dual requirement of intent and knowledge, wherein the perpetrator must have both the intention to cause bodily harm and subjective awareness that death is a likely consequence of their actions.


The distinction between subjective and objective knowledge is crucial in understanding the application of Clause (2) of Section 300. While the offender's personal perception of the consequences of their actions matters in determining subjective knowledge, Clause (3) of Section 300 requires an objective assessment of whether the inflicted injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.


Therefore, Clause (2) emphasizes the offender's subjective perception of the likely fatal outcome of their actions.


The use of the term "likely" in Clause (2) of Section 300 indicates a degree of certainty or definiteness regarding the potential outcome of the inflicted injury. It implies a high probability of death rather than a mere possibility.


Illustrative cases help elucidate the application of Clause (2) of Section 300 in practice. In the case of Willie (William) Slaney v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused struck the victim on the head with a hockey stick during a heated exchange, resulting in the victim's death.


However, the Supreme Court held that the accused lacked the special knowledge necessary to establish Clause (2) as the likely cause of death, leading to a conviction under a lesser offense.


Conversely, in BN Srikantiah v. State of Mysore, where the victim sustained numerous incised injuries on vital body parts, the court determined that the injuries were inflicted with the intention of causing death, thereby falling under the purview of Section 300.


Similarly, in the case of State of Rajasthan v. Dhool Singh, the accused was found guilty of murder for inflicting a fatal incised cut on the victim's neck, leading to excessive bleeding and subsequent heart failure. The court held that the accused had the requisite knowledge that the inflicted injury would likely cause the victim's death.


INTENTIONAL CAUSING OF INJURY SUFFICIENT TO CAUSE DEATH


Clause (3) of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses situations where an individual intentionally causes injury sufficient to cause death.


This clause involves two key elements: the intention to inflict a particular bodily injury and the sufficiency of that injury to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.


Unlike Clause (2), which involves subjective knowledge, Clause (3) adopts an objective perspective, focusing on the nature and severity of the injury inflicted.


In the case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court outlined the requirements to establish culpable homicide under Clause (3) of Section 300. The prosecution must prove the presence and nature of bodily injury, the intention to inflict that specific injury, and the sufficiency of the injury to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.


Once these elements are established, the inquiry becomes purely objective, with no requirement to prove the offender's intention or knowledge regarding the fatal nature of the injury.


This principle was affirmed by the Supreme Court in various cases, emphasizing that the focus is on the nature of the injury rather than the offender's state of mind.


In the case of Harjinder Singh v. Delhi Administration, the accused stabbed the victim in a confrontation, resulting in the severing of vital arteries and the victim's death.


However, the court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the accused's intention to inflict the specific injury that caused death, leading to a conviction under a lesser offense.


Similarly, in Laxman Kalu Nikalje v. State of Maharashtra, the accused stabbed the victim near the shoulder, resulting in death due to arterial severance.


Despite the fatal outcome, the court held that there was insufficient evidence to establish the accused's intention to cause the specific injury that proved fatal, leading to a conviction under a lesser charge.


Additionally, in the case of Addha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused's involvement in a sudden fight resulting in the victim's death did not demonstrate intent to cause death, leading to a conviction under a lesser offense.


KNOWLEDGE THAT ACT IS SO IMMINENTLY DANGEROUS SO AS TO CAUSE DEATH


Clause (4) of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses acts that are so imminently dangerous that they are likely to cause death, without necessarily being directed at any specific individual.


This clause encompasses reckless acts where the perpetrator knowingly engages in behavior that poses a high risk of causing death or serious bodily harm.


Unlike the preceding clauses, Clause (4) does not require a specific intention to cause death but focuses on the knowledge that the act is imminently dangerous.


The essential elements of Clause (4) include: 

  • the act being imminently dangerous, 

  • the perpetrator's knowledge of this danger, 

  • the likelihood of causing death or grievous bodily harm, and 

  • the absence of any reasonable excuse for taking such a risk. 


The term "imminently dangerous" implies an immediate and imminent threat of harm, with the danger being apparent and close at hand.


In the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ram Prasad, the Supreme Court applied Clause (4) in a scenario involving domestic violence where the accused set his wife on fire during a quarrel.


The court emphasized that while Clauses (1)-(3) involve considerations of intention, Clause (4) focuses solely on knowledge.


The accused's awareness of the likely fatal outcome of his actions, coupled with the absence of any justification for taking such a risk, led to a conviction under Clause (4) for culpable homicide amounting to murder.


Similarly, in Thangaiya v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court clarified that Clause (4) applies when the offender's knowledge of the probability of death approaches practical certainty. The offender must possess a high degree of certainty regarding the fatal outcome of their actions.


In Sehaj Ram v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court upheld the application of Clause (4) where a constable fired shots at another constable, ultimately causing death. Despite the argument that the intention was not to kill but to intimidate, the court ruled that the act fell within the ambit of Clause (4) due to its imminently dangerous nature and the absence of any reasonable excuse.


Furthermore, Clause (4) requires proof that the accused incurred the risk of causing death or bodily harm "without any excuse." This phrase does not necessarily refer to the five exceptions appended to Section 300 but rather encompasses situations where the accused lacks any reasonable justification for taking such a risk.


CULPABLE HOMICIDE IS NOT MURDER


Murder EXCEPTION 1 

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) offers a defense against murder charges in situations where an individual, due to grave and sudden provocation, loses self-control and causes someone's death. However, this exception has specific criteria. 

  • the provocation must not have been sought voluntarily by the offender as an excuse for causing harm. 

  • it should not be a result of an act done in obedience to the law or by a public servant exercising lawful powers. 

  • it should not arise from anything done in the exercise of the right of private defense.


In the landmark case of KM Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, the accused, upon discovering his wife's infidelity, shot and killed the person involved. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the accused had enough time to regain self-control between the provocation and the act, thus rejecting the application of Exception 1.


However, in Hansa Singh v. State of Punjab, the accused, witnessing the deceased committing a heinous act against his son, experienced sudden and grave provocation, leading to a mitigated charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.


Yet, in cases such as Dattu Genu Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra and Mannam Balaswamy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, where the provocation lacked suddenness or was merely an excuse for the crime, the defense of grave and sudden provocation was dismissed.


Similarly, in Bhura Ram v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court rejected the plea of sudden and grave provocation as the accused had actively sought the provocation, rendering it ineligible for the exception.


Additionally, in Franscis alias Pannan v. State of Kerala, despite the court's rejection of the plea of sudden and grave provocation, the accused's constant fear of the deceased's threats against his family members led to a reduced sentence.


Exception 1 of Section 300 provides a crucial defense, allowing for the consideration of extreme emotional distress caused by sudden and grave provocation. However, its application is strictly scrutinized by the courts, ensuring it meets the specified criteria.


Murder EXCEPTION 2

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with situations where an individual exceeds their right of private defense, resulting in the death of another person. This exception does not fully absolve the individual but mitigates the offense from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

In the case of Nathan v State of Madras, the accused, in an attempt to defend their property against forceful eviction, killed the deceased. However, since the deceased was unarmed, the accused exceeded the limits of their right to private defense, leading to a reduced charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.


Similarly, in Onkarnath Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, the accused pursued and fatally assaulted the fleeing deceased, extending beyond the scope of permissible defense, resulting in a conviction for murder.


In Mohinder Pal Jolly v State of Punjab, the accused, amid a wage dispute, fatally shot a worker, but the circumstances did not warrant a reasonable apprehension of danger, leading to a finding that the accused exceeded their right to private defense, thus, the exception did not apply.


Additionally, in Kattu Surendra v State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court ruled that death caused after the cessation of the right to private defense falls outside the ambit of this exception.


EXCEPTION 3


Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses situations where a public servant, or someone aiding a public servant, causes death by exceeding their lawful powers in the discharge of their duties. To qualify for this exception, certain conditions must be met: 

  • the act must have been committed in the discharge of official duties, 

  • the public servant must have exceeded their lawful powers, 

  • the act must have been done in good faith, 

  • the public servant must have believed the act was necessary, and 

  • there should be no ill-will toward the deceased.


EXCEPTION 4

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with acts done without premeditation in a sudden fight.


This exception applies to situations where a homicide occurs in the heat of passion during a sudden quarrel, provided certain conditions are met.


To qualify under Exception 4:

  • The murder must be committed without premeditation.

  • It must occur in the course of a sudden fight.

  • It must be committed in the heat of passion.

  • It must arise upon a sudden quarrel.

  • The offender must not have taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.


The term "sudden fight" implies mutual provocation and aggravation, where both parties engage in a physical altercation without prior deliberation or determination to fight.


It involves the exchange of blows between the parties, indicating a bilateral transaction where both parties participate actively.


However, it's essential to differentiate between a sudden fight and a one-sided attack, as a true fight requires participation from both sides.


Moreover, the absence of premeditation and the presence of sudden quarrel are crucial elements for invoking this exception. The offender's loss of power of reasoning due to the heat of passion distinguishes Exception 4 from other provisions regarding provocation.


Notably, undue advantage or acting in a cruel or unusual manner disqualifies an offender from seeking shelter under this exception. This provision aims to mitigate punishment for homicides committed in the spur of the moment, provided they meet the specified criteria.


In Dharman v State of Punjab, a fatal fight erupted during a dispute over land, resulting in the death of the deceased. The court ruled that the accused acted in the heat of passion and sudden quarrel, falling within the ambit of Exception 4.


However, in Narayanan Nair Raghavan Nair v State of Travancore, the accused's stabbing of an unarmed man was deemed not a sudden fight but an act of taking undue advantage, thereby disqualifying the application of Exception 4.


EXCEPTION 5


Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertains to death by consent. It states that culpable homicide is not murder when the person whose death is caused, being above the age of 18 years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with their own consent.


To qualify under Exception 5:

  • The death must be caused with the consent of the deceased.

  • The deceased must have been above 18 years of age at the time.

  • The consent given must be free and voluntary, not induced by fear or misconception of facts.


This exception recognizes situations where individuals willingly agree to their own death or take the risk of death under certain circumstances.


In the case of Ujagar Singh, the accused killed his stepfather with the latter's consent, albeit for ulterior motives. The court ruled that this act fell under the purview of Exception 5 and was punishable under the relevant sections of the IPC.


Similarly, in Dasrath Paswan v State of Bihar, the accused, driven by frustration and a desire to end his life, killed his wife with her consent. The court, relying on Exception 5, convicted him under the appropriate sections of the IPC.


CONCLUSION


In conclusion, the concept of murder as delineated in Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) encapsulates a multifaceted understanding of culpable homicide, encompassing various exceptions that shed light on the complexities of human behavior and legal accountability.


Through the provisions outlined in Section 300 and its exceptions, the IPC strives to balance individual rights with societal interests, ensuring justice, legality, and proportionality in matters of life and death.


The exceptions, ranging from sudden provocation to self-defense, from acts by public servants to deaths by consent, offer a nuanced framework for evaluating culpability based on the specific circumstances surrounding each case.


By delineating criteria such as intent, premeditation, proportionality, and consent, the IPC provides a comprehensive legal framework for adjudicating cases of homicide, reflecting the evolving understanding of criminal law in response to societal norms and moral imperatives.


It underscores the importance of individual autonomy, accountability, and the rule of law in upholding justice within Indian society.

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