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criminal_laws:murder_and_culpable_homicide

Murder and Culpable Homicide

The distinction between murder and culpable homicide was described thoroughly in the famous case Reg vs Govinda on 18 July, 1876 (1877) ILR 1 Bom 342

The Observation of the court in this case can be summarised as below from the view of court.

Section 299

A person commits culpable homicide, if the act by which the death is caused is done

(a) With the intention of causing death;
(b) With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death:
(c) With the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death.

  • It is not necessary that any intention should exist with regard to the particular person whose death is caused, as in the familiar example of a shot aimed at one person killing another, or poison intended for one being taken by another.
  • The intention demanded by the section must stand in some relation to a person who either is alive, or who is believed by the accused to be alive.
  • The knowledge must have reference to the particular circumstances in which the accused is placed.

Section 300

Subject to certain exceptions, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done

  1. With the intention of causing death;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. With the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

Differences between the two offences

  • (a) and (1) show that where there is an intention to kill, the offence is always murder.
  • (c) and (4) appear to me intended to apply (I do not say that they are necessarily limited) to cases in which there is no intention to cause death or bodily injury. Furious driving, firing at a mark near a public road, would be cases of this description. Whether the offence is culpable homicide or murder, depends upon the degree of risk to human life. If death is a likely result, it is culpable homicide; if it is the most probable result, it is murder.
  • The essence of (2) appears to me to be found in the words which I have underlined. The offence is murder, if the offender knows that the particular person injured is likely, either from peculiarity of constitution, or immature age, or other special circumstance, to be killed by an injury which would not ordinarily cause death. The illustration given in the section is the following:
    • A, knowing that Z is labouring under such a disease that a blow is likely to cause his death, strikes him with intention of causing bodily injury. Z dies in consequence of the blow. A is guilty of murder, although the blow might not have been sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause the death of a person in a sound state of health.
  • There remain to be considered (b) and (3), and it is on a comparison of these two clauses that the decision of doubtful cases like the present must generally depend. The offence is culpable homicide, if the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is likely to cause death; it is murder, if such injury is sufficient in the, ordinary course of nature to cause death. The distinction is fine, but appreciable. It is much the same distinction as that between (c) and (4), already noticed. It is a question of degree of probability. Practically, I think, it will generally resolve itself into a consideration of the nature of the weapon used. A blow from the fist or a stick on a vital part may be likely to cause death; a wound from a sword in a vital part is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

Illustrations

  • Is a man guilty of culpable homicide if he shoots at the stump of a tree?
    • If a man kills another by shooting at what he believes to be a third person whom he intends to kill, but which is in fact the stump of a tree, it is clear that he would be guilty of culpable homicide.
    • This is because though he had no criminal intention towards any human being actually in existence, he had such an intention towards what he believed to be a living human being.
    • [Authority: Palani Goundan v. Emperor 1919]
  • Is a man guilty of culpable homicide if he shoots at a living human being believing him to be dead?
    • The intention of the accused must be judged not in the light of the actual circumstances, but in the light of what he supposed to be the circumstances.
    • It follows that a man is not guilty of culpable homicide if his intention was directed only to what he believed to be a lifeless body.
    • [Authority: Palani Goundan v. Emperor 1919]

Essentials of Culpable Homicide

Culpable homicide consists of three elements:

  • death of a human being;
  • which is caused by the physical conduct of a person;
  • the mental attitude of that person towards the consequences of such conduct.

In other words, where one is charged with the offence of culpable homicide, three facts have to be established.

First of all, it must be proved that the person, alleged to be victim of the offence, is dead;

secondly, that he died by the means alleged on the part of the prosecution; and

thirdly, that the accused intentionally took that part in causing his death which is attributed to him by the prosecution.

So, the mental element in culpable homicide, ie, the mental attitude of the agent towards the consequences of his conduct, is one of intention or knowledge. Motive is immaterial, so far as the offence of culpable homicide is concerned, and therefore, it need not be established.The intention refers to either the death itself or a bodily injury which is likely to cause death, i.e., an injury dangerous to life, whilst the knowledge refers to the death itself.

There are, thus, three species of mens rea in culpable homicide:

  • an intention to cause death;
  • an intention to cause a dangerous injury; and
  • knowledge that death is likely to happen.

Illustrations (a) and (b) to s 299, IPC, give examples of culpable homicide accompanied by the first or third species and illust (c ) shows that unless one or other of the three species is present, there can be no culpable homicide.The first class of culpable homicide is causing death by doing an act with the intention of causing death; such an offence is also prima faciemurder within the express words of s 300 .

The second class of culpable homicide is causing death with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death; this section, in defining this class of culpable homicide, does not dealt with knowledge at all, and knowledge and intention must not be confused. The third class of culpable homicide is causing death by an act with knowledge (on the part of the offender) that he is likely, by such act, to cause death


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Created on 2020/10/19 23:13 by • Last modified on 2020/12/04 11:14 (external edit)