Culpable homicide and Murder under the Indian Penal Code

The Indian Penal Code 1860 (hereinafter referred to as the 'IPC') defines culpable homicide and murder under Chapter 16, which addresses offences affecting a person's life. The IPC essentially identifies two categories of homicides, which are outlined in Sections 299 and 300. Section 299 defines culpable homicide not amounting to murder, whilst Section 300 defines culpable homicide amounting to murder, the latter being a more serious offence with a harsher sentence.

When it comes to these two provisions, the Statute is ambiguous in the sense that a cursory reading of both may lead one to conclude that there is little or no discernible difference between Sections 299 and 300. This is true even though the IPC provides specific exceptions and numerous examples to help individuals comprehend the statute, as seen by the challenge judges face while considering homicide cases. There is merely a thin line between the two homicides.

However, the very existence of a distinction, regardless of how minor, reflects the legislature's intent to distinguish between two degrees of homicide in order to serve justice. Therefore, attention to detail and careful interpretation are critical, as a faulty conviction might result in a miscarriage of justice. In an attempt to realise justice, the courts have played an essential part in making the demarcation between the two provisions as evident as possible. As a result, it is indisputable that the involvement of the courts in parsing and decoding the legislation has had profound significance and shaped the precedents to this date.

Section 299 of the IPC specifies culpable homicide not amounting to murder as:

“Whoever causes death by doing an act 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, commits the offence of culpable homicide.”[1]

This provision can be broken down into essential components, for when culpable homicide does not amount to murder

1) The act should cause a death of a person

a. The person causing such death should have intention to do so or;

b. Intention of causing any bodily injury likely to cause death or;

c. Knowledge that his act is likely to cause death.

Section 300 specifies that

“Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death,

2ndly. —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

3rdly. —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

4thly. —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.”[2]

We can break down Section 300 to see, when culpable homicide becomes murder provided that a person's death has been caused. The ingredients are:

· Intention of causing death or;

· Intention of causing bodily injury that offender knows is likely to cause death to a particular person or;

· Intention of causing bodily injury, which in ordinary course of nature is sufficient to cause death or;

· Knowledge that the act is immensely dangerous that it must cause death in all probability.

From the above-mentioned provisions, we can understand that culpable homicide amounting to murder and not amounting to murder are lucidly overlapping offences. Both of them contain similar ingredients to be proved, however this does not mean that both are the same. If we consider Section 299 to be the genus then Section 300 is the species of the same. In other words, Section 300 is a subset of Section 299 and every murder is a form of culpable homicide.

Section 300, on the other hand, is a smaller and more specific circle, requiring the proof of more particular criteria in addition to those specified by Section 299 to establish murder. This is what gives rise to a distinction between the two provisions.

The Supreme Court in the landmark case, State of AP.v. Rayavarappu Punnaya [3] attempted to establish a distinction between the two provisions.

The court held that the first part of both the provisions requires an intention to cause death, or the existence of Mens Rea/(Guilty mind).However distinctions can be made on grounds of extent/degree of such Mens Rea. This can be understood by reading the second part of Section 300 which specifies instances where even through there is existence of intention, the act will not amount to murder as the degree of intent is not enough to bring it within the ambit of Section 300. It can be said conclusively that Section 300, by creating exceptions distinguishes itself on the basis of extent of Mens Rea. To the extent of the exceptions made Section 300’s scope is lesser in Comparison to Section 299.

The exceptions are as follows (under conditions where culpable homicide certainly does not amount to murder:

1) Under Grave and Sudden provocation

2) Exceeding the Right to Private defence in good faith

3) Public Servant exceeds the power given by law under good faith

4) Taking the life of a person above 18 years of age with his consent

5) Done without premeditation and in the heat of moment provided that the accused does not take undue advantage and acts in a reasonable manner.

In all of these cases culpable homicide does not amount to murder, as the degree of intention of the offender is lesser than what is required for murder. This can be ascertained by looking at the facts of the case such as nature of weapon used, part of the body that the injury was directed ,etc as laid down by the court in Pulicherla Nagaraju v State of Andhra Pradesh[4]. The court laid down 11 aspects to be considered to determine the degree of Intention.

Secondly, distinction can also be made on the extent of knowledge an offender has. To come within the ambit of Section 299, it is enough the offender’s act causes a bodily injury which is likely to cause death. However, Section 300 requires the offender to have knowledge of the fact that his act is likely to cause death. Along with the intention of causing such bodily injury the offender also has to have knowledge of the fact that it is likely to cause the death of a person.

An alternate additional requirement of Section 300 is that intention to cause death should be coupled with the fact that such bodily injury sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.[5] Esentially it restricts the scope of Section 300 to include acts which in the natural course is sufficient to cause death, irrespective of whether the offender has the knowledge of the same/ intention to inflict such bodily injury. Intention shall be proved separately. This was reiterated in Virsa Singh v. The State of Punjab[6], where the court held that

“It must be proved that the injury of the type just described was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. This part of the enquiry is purely objective and inferential and has nothing to do with the intention of the offender."

According to the rule established in this case, the act would not constitute murder if the accused's intent was restricted to the inflicting of a bodily injury sufficient to cause death in the usual course of nature and did not extend to the intention of causing death. This rule laid down by this judgement had become an important precedent and required 2 different aspects to be proved with respect to the thirdly clause of Section 300. As reiterated in Nankaunoo v. State of Uttar Pradesh[7] the court held that

“First ,the prosecution has to prove from the given facts and circumstances that the intention of the accused was to cause that particular injury. Second, whether it was sufficient to cause death is an objective enquiry and it is a matter of inference or deduction from the particulars of the injury”

Reg. v. Govinda[8] ( 1877) illustrates the apt application of the thirdly clause . In this case, the perpetrator beat his wife, causing her to fall down, after which he repeatedly punches her, and she died as a result of blood extraversion on her brain. The Court determined that the offender's intent to cause physical injury was insufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. Therefore, it is not the case of culpable homicide amounting to murder but it is the case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Furthermore the Section 299 only requires the offender to have knowledge that his act is likely to cause death, whereas Section 300(Fourthly clause) requires that the knowledge that the act is immensely dangerous and will cause death in all probability. Here intention is not needed, but the degree of knowledge draws a line.

As an extension of this we can construct the third difference between the two provisions to be the probability of death. Clearly Section 299 covers only offences where death is a likely consequence whereas Section 300 covers cases where death is more than just a likely consequence (as defined under thirdly and fourthly clause of Section 300).

The punishments for the offences constructed under Section 299 and 300 is defined in Section 304 and Section 302 of the IPC respectively. People convicted of murder can be charged with life imprisonment or death penalty (in the rarest of rare cases) with a fine. Section 304 provides for two distinct punishments depending upon whether the offender had knowledge or intention (First part for intent, Second part for knowledge)

In State of AP.v. Rayavarappu Punnaya[9] the court laid down that

For the purpose of fixing punishment, proportionate to the gravity of this generic offence, the IPC practically recognises three degrees of culpable homicide. The first is what may be called, culpable homicide of first degree, this is the gravest form of culpable homicide which is defined in section 300 as 'murder'. The second may be termed as 'culpable homicide of the second degree'. This is punishable under the 1st part of Section 304. Then, there is 'culpable homicide of the third degree'. This is the lowest type of culpable homicide and the punishment provided for it is also the lowest among the punishments provided for the three grades, punishable under Part II of Section 304."

This is because intent is a more specific term than knowledge. Intent is clearly directed whereas simple knowledge cannot always be attributed to the actions of the offender.

“Firstly, when an act is done by a person, it is presumed that he must have been aware that certain specified harmful consequences would or could follow. But that knowledge is bare awareness and not the same thing as intention that such consequences should ensue. As compared to 'knowledge', 'intention' requires something more than the mere foresight of the consequences, namely the purposeful doing of a thing to achieve a particular end”[10]

A landmark judgement on conviction for single blow cases explains the extent to which the courts have decoded the statute .In Pappu v. State of MP[11], the Apex court held that,it cannot be laid down as a rule of universal application that whenever one blow is given, Section 302 IPC is ruled out. It would depend upon the weapon used, the size of it in some cases, force with which the blow was given, part of the body it was given and several such relevant factors

The court in Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab[12] laid down how a case should be approached while dealing with culpable homicide and murder. To begin, the court should determine whether the accused committed a conduct that resulted in the death of another person. If the response to this question is yes, the next step is to determine if the act comes within Section 299 of the IPC. The stage has been set for assessing the operation of section 300 of the IPC if the answer to this question is prima facie judged to be yes. This is the stage at which the Court should assess whether the circumstances presented by the prosecution put the case within the scope of any of the four clauses of Section 300, which specifies murder. If the response to this question is no, the offence is 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder,' penalized under the first or second part of Section 304.

In conclusion, the courts have made significant contributions to dispersing the obscurity around Sections 299 and 300 and making the line separating them less blurry for the benefit of the public.

[1] § 299, Indian Penal Code (1860). [2] § 300, Indian Penal Code (1860). [3] State of AP.v. Rayavarappu Punnaya, AIR 1977 SC 45. [4] Pulicherla Nagaraju v State of Andhra Pradesh, (2006) 11 SCC 444. [5] Id. [6] Virsa Singh v. The State of Punjab, 1958 SCR 1495. [7] Nankaunoo v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2016) 3 SCC 317. [8] Reg. v. Govinda ( 1877) ILR 1 Bom 342. [9] Supra note 3. [10] Supra note 6. [11] Pappu v. State of MP ,AIR 2006 SC 2659. [12] Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab, (2011) 9 SCC 462.

This article is written by Vikram Krishnan of Tamil Nadu National Law University.

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