Culpable Homicide

Culpable Homicide

To get a good understanding of this topic we need to understand what homicide is. Homicide is the killing of human being by a human being[1]. It may be either lawful or unlawful i.e., excusable or non- excusable. Lawful Homicides are those which are excusable under certain circumstances called as General Exceptions and is embodied in Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Unlawful homicides include the following:-

1. Murder

2. Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder

3. Causing death by negligence; and

4. Suicide

Dictionary meaning of the word ‘Culpable’ is blameworthy, guilty or criminal. Hence, Culpable Homicide means an act of killing of a human being by another human being also such an act which is criminal and blameworthy. It is mentioned as human being and not ‘person’ because under Section 11 of Indian Penal Code person also includes artificial person such as company, institutions etc., which is not required by this section.

If we try to understand the meaning of Culpable Homicide with its definition given under the Section 299 of Indian Penal Code it gives out the following points i.e., Culpable Homicide is called the causing to death of a human being, by doing an act which is done either with the intention of causing death or with the intention of causing such body injury that is likely to cause death and also having the knowledge that the doer is likely to cause death.

For e.g., a person tries to cover up a huge pit on the ground with sticks or grass with the intention of causing death or having the knowledge that if someone falls inside it will die. If a person say X walks over that covered up pit, believing that it is firm ground falls inside it and dies, then it is considered that the person has committed the crime of Culpable Homicide.

Essentials of Culpable Homicide

Whoever causes death:

Here it is not necessary that the person whose death has been caused is the one whose death was intended. Even if the intention was to kill someone else but an act was done in order to kill and which caused the death, such an action will be considered as Culpable Homicide. Though it should be clear that causing death here does not include death of an unborn child i.e., the child which is still in the mother’s womb. Death of a living child can be considered as Culpable Homicide.

By doing an act:

Death can be caused by doing any act. Act here includes illegal omission of something. Illegal omission means when such omission is an offence, it conducts a breach of law, is an offence or ground for civil action. Thus an omission of any act resulting in death of a human being also amounts to Culpable Homicide. For e.g., a nurse voluntarily avoids providing the required medical assistance to a seriously ill patient hence if the patient dies then the action of the nurse will amount to as Culpable Homicide. But whereas A didn’t feed a beggar and hence the beggar dies, here A will not be held guilty for committing culpable homicide because A has no relation whatsoever with the beggar except that of humanity.

Also here the word ‘act’ can include the use of words for causing a human being’s death. If A intended and had knowledge that B has a serious heart illness or is in a state that he cannot handle any shocking news, still gives certain exciting or agitating news to B by which he dies. A is liable for culpable homicide.

Intension and knowledge

Intention to cause death:

Intention is when a certain consequence is expected to occur. Intention is inferred from the acts of the accused and the circumstances of the case[2]. Though intention cannot be concluded only on the bases consequences. It means it cannot be considered as an intention unless the occurrence of death was the most probable result of such action. If a gun is a shot pointing towards a particular human being,which kills that person then here intention was present. Whereas ablow with a strong weapon which normally would not cause death to a healthy person, if the person dies it will not be considered as intention to kill.

Intention to cause of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death:

The wrongdoer may not only intend to cause death of any other human but may also try to cause serious bodily injury which is likely to cause death. Grover J. emphasised that “ it is indispensable that the death should be clearly connected with the act of violence, and not merely by chain of causes and effects, but by such direct influence as is calculated to produce the effect without the interference of any considerable change of circumstances”.[3] This implies that the action and the resulting death of the person should be in direct contact with each other, there should not be too much time gap between them. There should be any intervention any subsequent causes.

With the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death:

This refers to the wrongdoer having knowledge of their actions and about the consequences they hold. If A purposely caused serious injury to B on vital parts like head and chest and as a result B dies then A will be held liable for culpable homicide.

In a case, aperson in a huff, took his father’s revolver and fired indiscriminately towards his neighbour’s house. A member of their family while trying to close the door got shot and died. Here it was held that accused at best can be said to have knowledge that use of revolver is likely to cause death and hence was made liable for culpable homicide.

Death caused without Intention or Knowledge:

In the absence of intention or knowledge the offence is considered as simple hurt or grievous hurt. If death occurs where the offender intended to or had knowledge about then it is culpable homicide. Where the offender did not intended to cause death neither had the knowledge and nor his actions where futile enough to cause death of person it shall be considered as simple hurt or grievous hurt. 

Punishment

The punishment for culpable homicide is mentioned in the Section 304.  For committing culpable homicide the punishment is divided into two parts.[4]

  • Punishment for Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder where the act was done with the intention of causing deathis imprisonment either simple or rigorous for life, or a term maximum extended up to 10 years including fine.
  • Punishment for the act done with the knowledge that it can cause death but without intention to cause death is imprisonment, of either description, maximum extended up to 10 years or fine or both. The punishment for culpable homicide is cognizable, non- bail-able, and is triable by Court of Session.

It was held that if a person inflicted bodily injuries on another person, where such injuries were likely to cause death. There is no doubt that the wrongdoer intended to cause those injuries, and hence is liable under part 1 of Section 304.[5]

Attempt to commit Culpable Homicide

Section 308 of the Indian Penal Code talks about the matters related to attempt to commit Culpable Homicide. It states that if a human being does an act with the intent or knowledge of the fact that if by that action death is caused and he is made liable for the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, he will face simple or rigorous punishment for a term maximum extending up to 3 years, or with fine, or both. And if hurt is caused by the act that person then he shall face simple or rigorous imprisonment maximum extended up to 7 years, or with fine, or both.

It means that for this instance to occur the accused must have the intention or knowledge that their actions are futile enough that they can cause death of that person who is harmed. The circumstances should be such that their actions constitute as culpable homicide not amounting to murder. It is pretty clear here in this section the term of imprisonment for causing death is less than that of causing hurt to another human being.

For e.g., a person due to provocation, fired B with a gun and as a result B dies, in such a case the person will be liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and shall be punished under this section as an attempt to commit culpable homicide.

Conclusion

Culpable Homicide is an offence similar to murder yet different. it is blameworthy offence and at times can be accidental and not result in death of a person. Its definitions and punishments are mentioned in Sections 299, 301,304 and 308. All murders are culpable homicides but it is not vice versa. There are punishments regarding those cases of culpable homicide which does not amount as murder. Though the similarity between the two makes the cases and their adjudication processes complicated. Hence the law commissions should pay more heed to this and help this evolve according to the current times and also and make sure offender gets the right punishment.

Illustrations

1. ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ were fighting. ‘B’ provoked ‘A’ as a result of which ‘A’ lost control and in such sudden provocation killed ‘B’. Here, ‘A’ shall be charged for Culpable Homicide and not murder.

2. ‘X’ and ‘Y’ went for shooting. ‘A’ was working behind some bush. ‘X’ knew that ‘A’ is behind the bush still insisted ‘Y’ to shoot at it; ‘Y’ shot the gun and as a result ‘A’ was killed. Here ‘Y’ hasn’t committed any crime but ‘X’ will be punished for committing Culpable Homicide.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Culpable Homicide is a bailable offence?

No, Culpable Homicide is not a bail-able offence. It provides punishment under Section 304 either imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term not extending more than 10 years and/or with fine. The punishment is given according to their actions. Just like murder, Culpable Homicide is also a cognizable offence and triable by the Court of Session.

2. All murders are culpable homicide or not?

It is clear that every murder is a culpable homicide. But not very culpable homicide is murder. This confusion arises due to the annoyingly similar definitions provided under section 299 and 300 of the Indian Penal Code. There are certain cases where culpable homicides are not termed as murder and its punishment is provided under section 304. The ingredients of culpable homicide differ a little bit with that of murder.

In culpable homicide there must be: Intention to cause death of another human being, intention to cause bodily injury that is likely to result in death of the person, knowledge that by such act death, most likely, will occur.

In Murder, the ingredients are: Intention to cause death, intention to cause such body injury that is likely to result in death of the person, intention for causing a body injury, inflicted on some person which is sufficient to cause death during the course of life, or inflict such dangerous injury that it is in all probability, most likely to cause death or such an injury that will result in death.

The difference between the two isvery minute but it can be found out by detailed study of the language of both the Sections.

Edited by Parul Soni
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Reference

[1]Stephan, Digest of criminal law.

[2]Ghufar, (1887) P.R. No. 62 of 1887.

[3]Mohammed Hossein case, (1864) W.R. (cr.) 31.

[4]Latest laws.com, section 304: Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, https://www.latestlaws.com/bare-acts/central-acts-rules/criminal-laws/indian-penal-code1860/chapter-16-of-offences-affecting-the-human-body/section-304-punishment-for-culpable-homicide-not-amounting-to-murder/

[5]Shanmugam alias Kulandaivelu v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 2003 SC 209.

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