The Overlap Between Culpable Homicide and Murder

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Introduction

The hardest part of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is distinguishing between Culpable Homicide and Murder because they are so similar. And it can be difficult for even judges to distinguish because causing death is common in both. Let us start by looking at their definitions. 

Section 299 of the IPC, 1862 defines Culpable Homicide as “An act done 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.”

Whereas, Section 300 defines Murder as — “any Culpable homicide is murder, 

  • if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.”
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In a nutshell, it means that murder is nothing but a culpable homicide with some conditions. But IPC gives five exceptions under which a culpable homicide is not murder. These exceptions are grave and sudden provocation, private defense, the exercise of legal power, without premeditation in a sudden fight, and consent.

This distinguishing line between culpable homicide and murder is very thin and the confusion lies among the degree of intention to kill. The courts have often confronted this disputed issue, especially when there is a lack of evidence to prove intention or the degree of bodily injury causing injury. Let’s try to understand Culpable Homicide and Murder with the help of two case laws.

Virsa Singh vs State of Punjab

Facts of the Case: Virsa Singh, along with 5 other people, attacked Khem Singh, with a spear to injure him. Only one injury in the abdomen was inflicted during this attack. As a result of that injury, death was caused. The doctor, who conducted the post mortem of the body, stated that the injury was sufficient to cause the death. 

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The Session Judge discovered that the accused wanted to only inflict grievous hurt. But considering the facts, he held the accused guilty of murder under S.300(3) and gave him imprisonment for life under S.302 of the Indian Penal Code, whereas the other five were acquitted for the same. 

Punjab High Court (HC) said that two conditions need to be fulfilled for murder under S.300(3), one is an intention to cause injury and the second is that the injury is sufficient to cause death. The HC upheld the conviction. Further, it stated that even though the act was altogether sudden and there was merely a chance of death. the blow was fatal enough to result in death in ordinary nature, according to the Medical Report.

Issue: Appeal was presented in the Supreme Court (SC), where the prosecution argued that they failed to prove the intention of causing death and question before the court was what offense has been committed by Virsa Singh. 

SC Judgement: The honorable SC considered all the facts and draw some major points. Virsa Singh attacked the deceased, on the left side of the abdomen causing a wound of “2.5 inches”. This resulted in three coils of intestines coming out of the body of the deceased. The spear was pushed into the thickness of the abdominal wall. The SC convicted the petitioner of murder under S.300(3). 

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SC stated that it doesn’t matter if there’s intention or knowledge to cause death. But once, it is established that the intention to cause injury is proved. The rest is objective and the only question which will matter is whether injury inflicted was sufficient to death in the ordinary course of nature. The court focused on the fact where the appellant applied so much force on the spear that it went right into the bowels and three coils of intestines also came out of the wound, itself, concludes that the appellant wanted to inflict that much injury to the defendant. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal.

The SC also mentioned that if this principle is not applied in cases, then people will escape the liability of murder after causing injury intended to cause death. To secure justice, they must face the consequences if they inflict such kinds of injuries. Furthermore, to escape the liability of murder, it must be shown or reasonably deduced that the injury inflicted was unintentional or accidental. Therefore, the difference is not of law but facts.

Analysis: The judgment given by the court is remarkable. In cases like this, where the intention is hard to prove, the act was done by the offender often shows the nature or degree of intention which can be seen by the severity of the hurt caused. Like in the present case, the thrust of the spear was so harsh that it resulted in three coils of intestines coming out of the body. This very act shows that there was an intention to cause grievous hurt which could lead to death and the means used, i.e., the spear is no ordinary weapon to inflict little danger. 

The evidence of intention is not always present in every case, so it becomes quite possible to find about intention by the very act caused or by its nature or severity. After this, judges were compelled to think of the seriousness of the act or hurt caused to decide the offense to be murder or culpable homicide.

Reg. vs Govinda 

Facts of the Case: An 18-year-old, prisoner, kicked his 15-year-old wife and struck her few times in the back. In Addition to this, the evidence showed that she fell on the ground and then her husband put his knee on her chest and punched her 2 or 3 times on the face, targeting her left eye which caused discoloration of vision. Also, one of the blows hit her head and caused extravasation of blood in the brain which ultimately caused the death of the wife. 

Issue: Whether the offense committed by the prisoner is culpable homicide or murder.

Judgment: J. Melvill considering the facts, held the man liable under Culpable Homicide Not Amounting to Murder (S.299) rather than Murder (S.300). The reason was that the act was not grave enough to cause death in ordinary nature and there was no intention to kill his wife in the first place.  The judge stated that the consequence of the act in an ordinary sense would not have resulted in death. Also, if a person lying on the floor is struck hard enough then it may result in concussion or extravasation of blood on the surface or in the brain, which would result in death. But for this to be applied, one must know of it.

Analysis: Even though the case is old, a remarkable judgment had been given. Also, after reading the whole judgment, J. Melvill gave three important markers.

    1. Intention to kill: If there is a higher degree of intention then it is murder. Whereas, in Culpable Homicide, the degree of intention is lower
    2. Degree of risk to human life: If the act is likely to cause death, then it is culpable homicide. But in the case where the most probable outcome of the act is death, then it is murder.
  • Bodily Injury: It talks about the possibility of death caused by the act. If an act is likely to cause death, then it is culpable homicide. But if the bodily injury is sufficient to cause death, the offender is liable for murder.  

Melvill J. had gone with the apt judgment of making it a culpable homicide instead of murder and indicated the importance of intention to make offense culpable homicide or murder. 

Conclusion 

From the above two cases, it is understandable that we cannot establish a clear-cut division between these two. But we can say that culpable homicide has a wider scope than “murder.” Culpable homicide is therefore considered as the genus while murder is regarded as a species. Simply putting, murder is an aggravated form of culpable homicide. In murder, the offender has a definite knowledge that the act or its consequences would result in death whereas, in culpable homicide, the knowledge is not so definite. Lastly, the probability of causing death is lower in culpable homicide than murder. Apart from these, the nature of the act and means used, knowledge of death, evidence, and statements of the people are of great importance. But then again, it is subjective and depends on case to case but intention or knowledge remains the main consideration. 

References 

[1] Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[2] https://main.sci.gov.in/judgment/judis/552.pdf

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/783074/  

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