Both culpable homicide and murder deal with the killing of a person. Culpable homicide is the genus and murder is its specie. All murders are culpable homicide but all culpable homicides are not murders. So the distinction is as to whether an act is culpable homicide amounting to murder or culpable homicide is not amounting to murder.
There are practically three degrees of culpable homicide recognized in the IPC:
- Culpable homicide of the first degree, which is made punishable with death or imprisonment for life, to either of which fine may be added (s 302);
- Culpable homicide of the second degree, which is made punishable with imprisonment up to a limit of 10 years, or with imprisonment for life, to either of which fine may be added (s 304, Pt I); and
- Culpable homicide of the third degree, which is punishable with fine only, or with imprisonment up to a limit of 10 years or with both (s 304, Pt II).
Thus the true difference between culpable homicide and murder is only the degrees of intention and knowledge. A greater degree of intention and knowledge, the case would fall under murder. A lesser degree of intention and knowledge, the case would fall under culpable homicide. Culpable homicide becomes murder due to existence of some special features.
A practical approach to distinguish whether a particular situation would come under murder or culpable homicide is to appreciate the facts and apply the law in stages as indicated below:
- The first stage is to establish whether the accused had done an act, which has cause the death of another person. 2. The second stage is to establish whether the act of the accused would amount to culpable homicide i.e. it is not a result of some accident or simple hurt etc. 3. Once culpable homicide is established and the particular part of culpable homicide has been identified, then the next stage is to ascertain whether the act would fall under the respective clause of 300 because of existence of the special features.
4. It must be checked whether any exceptions of section 300 apply to the case. If not, then the act is murder but if some exception does apply, then it will go back to section 299 and is called culpable homicide not amount to murder.
|Culpable homicide (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.
Murder (section 300)
Subject to certain exceptions, a person commits 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, is likely to cause the death of that person.
3. With the intention of causing such bodily injury which 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.
Thus the special features required to take an act from section 299 to 300 are-
From 299 (a) to 300 (1): there is no requirement for any special feature because the first degree intention is itself sufficient. The Code requires two identical clauses because in case any exception is applied to 300, it would jump back to 299(a), which would subsequently result in a less severe punishment.
From 299 (b) to 300 (2): section 299 (b) merely stipulates that if death is caused by an act, with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death it amounts to culpable homicide. Clause (2) of 300 further requires a subjective knowledge on the part of the offender where he knows the bodily injury is likely to cause death.
From 299 (b) to 300 (3): for an act to jump from section 299(b) to 300(3), the bodily injury must be such as is likely to cause death in the ordinary course of nature which imputes the certainty of death to a greater extent that the words ‘likely’ in section 299 (b).
From 299 (c) to 300 (4): for this the act done must be should so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death. Thus here the offender has knowledge about the risky nature of the act. Section 300 (4) prescribes a high degree of probability of death than in section 299 (c ).