The first offence against human life is that of culpable homicide. The word “homicide” comes from the Latin words “homo,” which means “person,” and “caedere,” which means “to kill.” Homicide has been a part of human life since the beginning of time. In the past, people killed each other for food or to show who was in charge.
Homicide is one of the worst things a person can do because it is the worst kind of bodily harm one can cause another. Due to this, laws about homicide are strict. For example, people who commit homicide are usually sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty, the two extreme forms of punishment by the judiciary.
There are two types of homicide: Culpable Homicide (Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code) and Culpable Homicide amounting to murder (Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code). Both of these are very similar and have minimal differences. The delivery of fair judgments depends heavily on these differences in the legal system.
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Kinds of homicide
Homicide is either lawful or unlawful.
‘Lawful homicide’ includes the cases falling under General Exceptions, like when death is caused by accident or doing the right of private defence of the body and so on.
Unlawful Homicide is dealt with in Sections 299 to 318 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder (S. 299), Murder (S. 300), Rash or negligent homicide (S. 304A), and Suicide (S. 305 and 306).
What is culpable homicide?
Culpable homicide is a type of homicide that is against the law, i.e., unlawful. Culpable homicide gets criminalised under the Indian Penal Code 1862 (IPC). According to the IPC, there are two types of culpable homicide:
Culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 299 of IPC)
It is covered under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 299 states that:
An act was done to cause death or cause such bodily injury that will likely result in death or knowing that the act will likely cause death would constitute Culpable Homicide.
S. 299, which defines culpable homicide, can be analysed as follows :
Whoever causes death –
- To cause death, or
- Intending to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or
- Knowing that he is likely, by such an act, to cause death – he commits “culpable homicide.”
X induces Y to burn down the house knowing that Z is sitting inside. As X had prior knowledge that Z was present in that area, and his actions would cause Z’s death, he is liable for culpable homicide. Here, his intention makes X liable for culpable homicide.
Culpable homicide amounting to murder (Section 300 of IPC)
It is covered under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 300 states that:
Culpable homicide is considered murder if committed with the intent to cause death, committed with the intent to inflict such bodily injury that is likely to result in death, or if the body damage is sufficient to result in death in the ordinary course of nature. Committing an act with full knowledge that it is so fatal that it can cause death or bodily injury that is likely to cause death is an act committed without any justification.
Section 300, which defines murder, can be analysed as follows :
Culpable homicide is murder if:
- The act had the intention of causing death, or
- The act is to cause bodily injury as the offender knew the act would likely cause death (person to whom the harm is caused), or
- The act is to cause physical injury, and the bodily injury intended to be afflicted sufficient, in the ordinary course of nature, to lead to death, or
- The offender knows that the act is so imminently dangerous that it can cause death or such bodily injury as it is likely to lead to death and commits such act without any excuse for having the risk of causing death or such injury.
Rohan, without any excuse, fires a loaded gun into a crowd of people and kills one of them. Rohan is guilty of murder, although he may not have had a design to kill any particular individual.
When culpable homicide is not murder (Section 300, Exceptions 1 to 5)
Section 300 lays down the five different circumstances under which the offence of murder is reduced to culpable homicide, not amounting to murder. These exceptions include:
- When a person loses their self-control and kills someone after a grave and sudden provocation
- If the offender causes death while exercising his right to defend a person and property in good faith
- If a public servant kills someone while fulfilling his duties in good faith and believes that his actions were lawful
- When anyone kills another person in the heat of passion after a sudden quarrel
- A person over 18 who suffers death with his consent
Punishment for culpable homicide
Section 304 of IPC
Culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 299 IPC) gets punished under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. It states that, whoever causes death with intent or causes bodily injury that is likely to result in death, or whoever knows that death is expected as a result of the act, is liable for life imprisonment or up to ten years in prison and is accountable for a fine (Section 304(1) IPC).
Secondly, whoever causes death without intending to cause death, or bodily injury likely to result in death, or who is unaware that their actions could result in death, shall get punished with imprisonment for up to ten years and fined (Section 304(2) IPC).
Section 302 of IPC
A culpable homicide amounting to murder (Section 300 IPC) gets punished under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. It states that whosoever commits murder shall be liable with a punishment of life imprisonment or the death penalty and shall also be liable to pay a fine.
Difference between culpable homicide and murder
Under the IPC, “culpable homicide” is a genus, and “murder” is the species. “All murders are culpable homicides, but not all culpable homicides are murders.”
Murder is considered an aggravated form of culpable homicide. Per Section 299 of the IPC, murder does not have any ambiguity as it does in culpable homicide.
It is crucial to note that the multiple occurrences of the term “likely” show an element of ambiguity that the accused’s act may or may not kill the person. However, the Indian Penal Code does not mention words such as “likely” in the definition of murder. The accused knows that his actions will result in death regardless of whether there is any ambiguity.
The distinguishing feature of the requirement of mens rea is the knowledge offender possesses regarding the victim being in such a peculiar condition or health state.
The difference between the two is the degree of probability of death resulting from the intended bodily injury. The distinction may seem fine, but it is real and, if overlooked, may result in a miscarriage of justice. As far as intent and knowledge are concerned, there is a vast difference between these two crimes.
Landmark judgements regarding culpable homicide
Bhagwan Singh v. the State of Uttarakhand
The case has been ongoing since 2007 but reached a verdict recently. Due to celebratory gunfire, five people got injured, and two died from their wounds.
Based on the evidence found, the accused was pointing the gun at the top of the house. Unfortunately, the bullets were deflected and hit someone. The accused said he was not guilty because he did not mean to kill anyone. The court saw the accused walking around with a loaded gun and not paying attention to his surroundings. He must have known that the pellets could hit someone else and hurt them.
The court held him guilty of culpable homicide under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, punishable under IPC’s Section 304 Part 2.
Ram Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh
In this case, the appellant fell deeply in love with his sister-in-law. He called her out to a field the day before her wedding and hit her head with an axe. The girl ran back home and went to the police station to file an FIR. The police took her to the hospital, but she died on the way there. The court tried to figure out how legal the FIR was to use as proof of a dying declaration.
The court looked at a case called Dharam Pal v. State of U.P. and said that an FIR could be seen as a dying declaration if the victim dies before going to court.
In this case, the District Court punished the appellant for murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The accused then filed a criminal appeal against the District Court’s decision in the High Court. The post-mortem report showed that the girl could have been saved if she had been rushed to the hospital sooner. The judge changed the appellant’s conviction and sentenced him under section 304 part I of the IPC (Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder).
Culpable homicide means causing the death of someone by committing some act that will likely cause death.
Culpable homicide is a killing that the killer didn’t plan and didn’t think would happen; it was an accident, and the offender is to blame for it. There have been a lot of times when this area of the law has been used and correctly applied. Sections 299, 301, 304, and 304A detail the different things that fall under this subject.
How is culpable homicide different from murder?
Under the IPC, "culpable homicide" is a genus, and "murder" is the species. "All murders are culpable homicides, but not all culpable homicides are murders."
Is culpable homicide a bailable offence?
Culpable homicide is a non-bailable offence.
What are the elements of culpable homicide?
In the Indian Penal Code, section 299 deals with Culpable Homicide – "Whoever causes death by doing an act to cause death, or know that such an act is likely to cause death, commits the offence of Culpable Homicide."
What is a culpable homicide example?
An individual lays sticks and turf over a pit to cause death or with the expectation that it will cause death. Z treads on the ground, fall in and dies after believing it to be firm. A committed a culpable homicide.