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Culpable Homicide and Murder

Culpable Homicide

The word homicide is derived from two Latin words - homo and cido. Homo means human and cido means killing by a human. Homicide means killing of a human being by another human being. A homicide can be lawful or unlawful. Lawful homicide includes situations where a person who has caused the death of another cannot be blamed for his death. For example, in exercising the right of private defence or in other situations explained in Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code covering General Exceptions. Unlawful homicide means where the killing of another human is not approved or justified by law. Culpable Homicide is in this category. Culpable means blameworthy. Thus, Culpable Homicide means the killing of a human being by another human being in a blameworthy or criminal manner.

Culpable Homicide is defined in Section 299 of the IPC. If you study the definition you shall find that the definition stresses both on the physical and mental element, where an act is committed which is done with the intention of causing death, or with such knowledge that the act which he or she is going to undertake is going to kill someone, or causes such bodily or physical injury which will lead to a person's death. Also, read the explanations to the Section which are actually clarifications to the Section.

Explanation One: This tells us that where knowingly a person accelerates someone's death in such as situation it is considered a culpable homicide. Example: Y is diagnosed with a terminal illness and needs certain drugs to live from day today. X confines him in a room and denies him his medication as a result of which Y dies. X is guilty of Culpable Homicide.

Explanation Two: Tells us that where a person inflicts such bodily injury on someone and the latter dies because of such injury, it will not be an excuse that if the person had received medical attention his life would have been saved. Example: Ganda mows over a pedestrian deliberately. The pedestrian bleeds on the road and no one helps him and he dies as a result of Ganda's actions. Ganda cannot take the excuse that if the pedestrian had taken medical treatment at the right time, the pedestrian would have lived and there would be no culpable homicide

Explanation Three: This tells us that abortion does not constitute culpable homicide. However, if any part of the child is outside the womb, and the child is then killed, it constitutes culpable homicide. A word of caution, however, infanticide and abortion on the basis that the womb is bearing a female child is a criminal offence in India. Culpable Homicide can happen by commission or by omission, i.e. by an overt or conscious act or failure to act, by which a person is, deprived of his/her life.


  • Acts

The Act should be of such a nature that it would put to peril someone's life or damage someone's life to such an extent that the person would die. In most cases, the act would involve a high degree of violence against the person. Instances such as stabbing a person in vital organs, shooting someone at point-blank range, administering poison would include instances that would constitute culpable homicide. However, this is not always the rule and there are exceptions to this rule. Remember the section says "causes death by doing an act", so given the special circumstances certain acts which may not involve an extreme degree of violence but may be sufficient to cause someone's death. For example, starving someone may not require violence in the normal usage of the term, but may cause a person s death. The Section also covers the administration of bodily injury which is "likely" to cause death.

  1. Causing death: The very first test to decide whether a particular act or omission would be covered by the definition of culpable homicide is to verify whether the act done by an accused has ‘caused’ the death of another person. ‘Death’ means the death of a human being. But the word ‘death’ does not include the death of an unborn child. It is immaterial if the person whose death has been caused not the very person whom the accused intended to kill. The offence is complete as soon as any person is killed.

  2. By doing an act: Death may be caused in a number of ways; such as by poisoning, starving, striking, drowning or communicating some shocking news and by a hundred different ways. ‘Act’, here includes ‘illegal omission’ also. The word ‘illegal’ is applicable to everything which is an offence or which is prohibited by law, or which furnishes ground for a civil action. Therefore, death caused by illegal omission will amount to culpable homicide.

  • Intention

Sometimes one is required to do certain dangerous acts, even in everyday life where there is a risk of death or causing hurt to such an extent that a person may die. Mundane things such as driving possess the potential of taking someone's life. The question however is was the act committed with the "intention of causing death". Thus where you push someone for a joke and the person falls on his head has a brain injury and dies, there was no "intention of causing death" but when you pushed the person deliberately with the idea that the person falls and dies, in that case, the act is with the "intention of causing death"

To prove intention in acts where there is bodily injury is "likely to cause death", the act has to be can be of two types. Firstly where bodily injury itself is done in a fashion that causes death. For example, bludgeoning someone on the head repeatedly with a blunt instrument.

Secondly in situations where there are injuries and there are intervening events between the

injuries and the death provided the delay is not so blatant, one needs to prove that injuries were administered with the intention of causing death.

  • Knowledge

Knowledge is different from intention to the extent that where a person may not have the

intention to commit an act which kills, he knows that the act which he commits will take

someone's life or is likely to take someone's life will be considered having the "knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death". For example, a doctor uses an infected syringe

knowingly on a patient thereby infecting him with a terminal disease. The act by itself will not cause death, but the doctor has knowledge that his actions will lead to someone's death.

Culpable Homicide Amounting to Murder

Section 300 deals with Culpable Homicide amounting to murder. In other words, the Section

states that culpable homicide is murder in certain situations. This makes us come to two

conclusions, namely:

  • For an act to be classified as murder it must first meet all the conditions of culpable homicide.

  • Secondly, all acts of murder are culpable homicide, but all acts of culpable homicides are not murder.

Now, let us study the situations in which culpable homicide does amount to murder. Section 300 states, that except for situations states (which do not concern us as of now) culpable homicide is murder in four situations:

  • When an act is done with the intention of causing death

The degree of intention required is very high for murder. There must be intention present and the intention must be to cause the death of the person, not only harm or grievous hurt without the intention to cause death. Instances would include:

  1. Shooting someone at point-blank range.

  2. Stabbing someone in the hurt

  3. Hanging someone by the neck till he dies

  4. Strapping a bomb on someone

  5. Administering poison to someone.

Remember the act must be accompanied with the intention to "cause death."

  • Inflicting of bodily injury which the offender knows is likely to cause death

The second situation covers instances where the offender has special knowledge about the victim's condition and causes harm in such a manner that causes the death of the person. Look at this part of Section 300 very carefully. It states that the offender "knows likely to be the cause of death" Instances would include:

  1. Sundar is a hemophilic patient. Bandar knows this and cuts him in multiple places, which if carried out on an ordinary person would not have cost him his life.

  2. Lolo is suffering from jaundice. Bebo knows this and slips in alcohol in Lolo's medicine in order to rupture Lolo's liver so Lolo dies. Lolo dies as a result of consuming the adulterated medicine.

  • Bodily injury that causes death in the ordinary course of nature

These situations cover such acts where there is a bodily injury that in an ordinary sequence of events leads to the death of the person. Read the part of the section carefully. The section actually has two conditions: Firstly, the bodily injury inflicted is inflicted with the intention of causing the death of the person on whom it is inflicted. Secondly, the bodily injury caused in the ordinary course of events leads to the death of someone. An instance of the same would be: Musharraf wants Sharif dead. In order to kill Musharraf picks up a hockey stick and repeatedly hits him on the head. Sharif dies as a result of the injury.

  • Commission of an imminently dangerous act without any legitimate reason which would cause death or bodily injury which would cause death.

This head covers the commission of those acts which are so imminently dangerous which when committed would cause death or bodily injury which would result in the death of a person and that such an act is done without any lawful excuse. Cases under this head have three requirements: Firstly, Commission of an inherently dangerous act. Secondly, the knowledge that the act in all probability will cause death or bodily injury which will cause death and Thirdly, the act is done without any excuse (the excuse must be a lawful or legitimate excuse) Instances would include:

  1. Throwing a high-intensity bomb in a crowded public place.

  2. Thrown loaded cast iron boxes from a multi-storied building in a busy thoroughfare.

Culpable Homicide Not Amounting to Murder

When not murder, culpable homicide is a crime by itself. As stated above a situation must first become culpable homicide before it becomes murder. Though dealt with in detail in the

following section, the basic difference between culpable homicide and murder is the level of intention involved. Where there is a very high level of intention involved the act usually falls under murder. In addition to this general understanding (that acts when not murder are culpable homicide) the IPC itself lists certain cases when death is caused to be read as culpable homicide not amounting to murder covers five specific situations:

  • Acts under grave and sudden provocation

When a person loosesself control on account of certain situation and causes the death of some person. The provocation must be grave, it must be sudden, i.e. there must be no scope for pre-meditation and thirdly, it must not be self invited so as to use it as an excuse to deprive a person of his/her life.

An example of this situation will be: A has an affair with S. A's husband returns home to find A in a compromising position with S. Seeing his wife in such a position and without further thinking, he reaches out for a knife and kills S. S will have committed culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

  • When Private Defence is exceeded in good faith

In exercising private defence either with respect to property or person, if a person accidentally exceeds his or her right in good faith or in wrong judgment and the act causes the death of a person, the act is culpable homicide and not murder

  • Exceeding the Ambit of Discharging Public Duties

When an officer or public servant exceeds his or her mandate of duties or authority given to him or an officer or public servant assisting him exceeds the same, it is considered culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Example: Inspector Chulbul was given instructions to capture Gabbar but not shoot him. When the transport convoy broke down and Gabbar moved from his seat Chulbul thought he is going to escape and shot him. At best Chulbul would have committed culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

  • When death is caused in sudden fight or heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel

Similar to the first situation, when at times a fight gets out of hand and a person hits someone or injures a person in such a fashion that may cause the death of a person.

  • When death is caused by a person above eighteen years of age who voluntarily took the risk of death

When death is caused in a situation where a person has by his own consent put himself to risk the same would be a culpable homicide and not murder. An example of this illustration would be: Bhola instigates Bobby to commit suicide. Bobby after independently considering the suggestion and without any pressure from Bhola commits suicide. If Bhola was an adult, then Bhola would be guilty of assisting in culpable homicide.

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Introduction A rash or negligent act causing death or grievous hurt is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 304-A and Section 338 of the IPC deals with rash or negligent act