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A Stake In The Heart: Culpable Homicide or Murder?

Culpable Homicide Murder
As a law student, most of us has scratched our heads over the difference between culpable homicide and murder. While the legislators proved to be of little help, I present to you the divergence between the Section 299 and Section 300 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Killing of a man by a man is punishable by the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In general terms, it comes under the garb of culpable homicide. Both sections mention of an act done ‘with the intention of causing death', the only difference are the exceptions mentioned under murder that make the act fall within culpable homicide. Exceptions of sudden and grave provocation, exceeding the right of private defence, exceeding lawful power by a public servant, sudden fight and major's own consent does have 'intention to cause death' but are not classified as murders. In simple words, culpable homicide amounts to murder when the case falls within one of clauses under Section 300. Within Section 299 there are three degrees of mens rea and the mens rea of Culpable homicide and murder also differs. Legally speaking, mens rea in murder is of gravest nature.

Second part of Section 299 depicts a mens rea to cause 'bodily injury as likely to cause death' while clause secondly of Section 300 speaks of both 'intention' and 'knowledge' of causing a bodily injury as likely to cause death. So, if you hit a person with intention to injure him but does not know or are not sure that the person will die of such act, this is the case of culpable homicide. Similarly, if you hit vital parts of body, or pre-existing wounds and stitches, you both intend to cause injury and know that the person will die of such act. If you notice closely, the difference is of mens rea in form of 'knowledge' and possibility of death. It is important to discuss hurt/grevious hurt here and should not be confused with any of the above elements. Grevious hurt under Section 320 contains a specific form of mens rea of voluntarily/intentionally/knowingly causing hurt as defined in Section 319. It will be interesting to note that the acts result in bodily injury, disease or infirmity but NOT death.

Third part of Section 299 speaks of 'knowledge as likely to cause death'. The case of Rajni v. State, 2015 defined ‘knowledge’ as the bare state of conscious awareness of certain facts in which mind itself remain supine. It is noteworthy here that there is NO intention to do an act that is likely to cause death. You may drive rash at night to feel adrenaline rush but you do not intend to kill someone. However, you have knowledge that your act may kill someone. Clause thirdly of section 300 mentions 'intention to cause bodily injury’ AND its sufficiency to cause death in ordinary course of nature. The conjunctive 'and' suggest that both requirements have to be fulfilled together. ‘Intention’ is the conscious state in which mental faculties are roused into activity and summed up into action for deliberate purpose of being directed towards a particular end as delineated in the case of Tapas vs The State of NCT Of Delhi, 2002. It is important here to note that only 'intention' to cause a particular injury is required. One may not have an intention to kill for that matter. A stake through the heart or a sword in the spine will come under murders when intention to give this type of injury is established and these acts are sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death.

Section 300 contains an additional clause that is fourthly having the highest probability of death by an act that is known by the offender to be 'imminently dangerous' and the act is done without any excuse. The excuse here is not one of the exceptions under this section. No intention is required here, the act is simply reckless. So, a person rash driving in a crowded street knows that his act can surely kill someone. Although, he does not have an intention to kill. PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law lists that the court looks upon a number of factors like number of accused, nature of weapons and injuries, part of body injured etc in all the cases of these two crimes.

To sum up, all acts causing death are not classified as murders, but death is caused in both-culpable homicide and murder. Murder can also be seen as a sub-set or specie of culpable homicide. One can also understand it in this way, murder is the aggravated form of culpable homicide; the difference is of degree and not form. Whether it is a stake through the heart or a murder in cold blood, criminal intention has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.


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