In layman’s language the unlawful killing of a human being with malicious intention by another human being is known as murder. It may sound easy but under the Indian Penal Code murder has more vast meaning than just killing. Its definition is very similar to that of Culpable Homicide yet it differs by a few ingredients. To determine exactly what kind of homicide has taken place the circumstances and state of mind of the accused is to be considered.
A person can be killed out of the hands of some other person by a number of ways. There might be certain instances where the accused didn’t intend to kill them; there can be accidents, negligence etc. To help the investigators determine which death of human being can be considered as murder, the statute provides the definition of murder under IPC. It specifies exactly when and in what circumstances it can be said that it was a murder and not just any other homicide. There are certain exceptions to it are also embodied under the Section 300 of IPC.
Definition of Murder
The definition of murder under Section 300 mentions the cases of culpable homicide that can be called as murder. Those cases are:-
Act by which death is caused was done with intention of causing death
Here action also includes intentional omission. Where a child was very ill and his family members refused to take him to the hospital for providing necessary treatment, as a result the child dies. Such a case shall be called as murder.
Having intention to cause bodily injury which is likely to cause death
Here the offender has the intention to cause bodily harm and knowledge that by his act death will be caused. This clause may include those cases where the victim was suffering from a trauma or disease that the offender knew about and used it as an advantage by inflicting bodily injury which resulted in death of that person, what may not have caused death of a normal person.
When injury is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature
For this clause the offender must have intention and would’ve caused a bodily injury that is sufficient enough to cause death to any other person in ordinary course of nature.
Having the knowledge of the dangerous at
Where the offender doing the act knows the gravity of his actions that it will, in all probability, will cause death of the person or the bodily injury that is inflicted is likely to cause death, and still commits such act without any prominent excuse for causing death or such injury. This is applicable on cases of dangerous action without any intention to cause specific injury. For e.g., rash driving.
The four cases mentioned above are the culpable homicides that are considered as murder. All the other remaining cases continue to be culpable homicides. All culpable homicides are murder but not all murders are culpable homicides.
Though the definition of murder is subject to some exceptions that are in the following circumstances the death cannot be called as murder.
This happens when a person is forced to kill another human being. The act should be done according to the will of the some other person. Also it is important that there should not be sufficient time between the prosecutions. These exceptions are also used as partial defence if all the following conditions are fulfilled:-
a. There should be provocation
b. Grave and sudden provocation,
c. Due to such prosecution the person has no self-control.
d. The death of a person has been caused by mistake or accident.
If done under the ambit of private defence
Where a person kills another while protecting their own life or property it shall not be considered as murder. Provided the person who got killed must be doing an act which was out of his rights given by the law and infringing the rights of the accused. There is no intention to cause death in cases of private defence. If intention is present does not remain an exception anymore and the accused will be punished.
If the offender is a public servant who only acted for public justice, but exceeded the power given to him by law and then caused death of a human, in good faith. Also if he believes what he did was lawful and necessary for him to do under his duty as public servant. This act by the public servant should be without any ill- intention. In a case a police constable fired at reapers under the orders of a superintendent of police, it was found there was no necessity for public security to disperse those reapers by firing upon them. They were charged for murder.
Death caused in a sudden fight
For this exception, the death should be caused in a sudden fight without any premeditation due to the heat of a sudden quarrel. Keeping in mind the accused should not have crossed any line. It does not matter who started the fight, it just have to be with the person who got killed. Here the fight is between two or more persons, with or without weapons.
Punishment for Murder
According to Section 302 of IPC the punishment for murder is death penalty or imprisonment for life and also liable to pay fine. Though in very rare cases the court the court resorts to providing death penalty for murder. Life imprisonment is the rule and death penalty is an exception in the offence of murder. Before giving death penalty a proper explained reason should also be given as to why such type of penalty is being given. This is mentioned under Section 354 (b) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Each and every aspect is considered before giving such a penalty. The Death penalty should only be provided in rarest of rare cases . If it is seen that the offender is grieved by his acts and is willing to atone his sins then the court has power to substitute his sentence for death penalty to imprisonment for life.
But if the sentence of death penalty is taking time in execution the punishment cannot be changed into life imprisonment. In cases where the trial courts and the High Courts are not in consensus in the decision as to what punishment should be given, in such instances imprisonment of life is provided.
The punishment should also be given after considering all the evidences, circumstantial evidences, witness statements, placement of injuries etc. in a case the husband had doubts on his wife that she might be cheating on him. One day while she was working in the fields with her 12 years old daughters he told both of them to follow him to the river to wash clothes. Later after this, both mother and daughter were found dead. The husband was convicted for murder.
Murder by life Convict
A life convict is a person who is guilty of a crime and sentenced imprisonment for life by the court. Hence in Section 303 IPC, it talks about cases where murder is committed by a person already going through the life imprisonment sentence. It is only applicable on the people convicted under Section 302 read with Section34 or Section 302 read with Section 149.
The Section states that if a person going through the sentence of imprisonment of life commits murder, then he shall be punished with death penalty. This section is making capital punishment necessary for a person who even after being convicted for imprisonment of life commits murder.
In a case, the Supreme court had said where a person is undergoing a sentence of imprisonment of life for murder, and is released as by remission then that person is no longer under the sentence of life imprisonment. The murder committed during the remission period will not be taken into consideration while giving punishment under this section. Hence the accused shall not be given life imprisonment.
Constitutionality of Section 303
The legality of this Section was questioned in front of a Bench of Four Judges of the Supreme Court. It was said that this Section violates the Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. This section discourages the assaults by the life convicts on the prison mates or staff members. The concern of the legislature was one thing, but the language they chose exceeded what it actually intended to say. According to the language the section aid that the life convicts are dangerous breed of humanity, though this assumption is not supported by any scientific data. Overall in majority it was seen that this sections violates the Article. 21 of the Constitution of India.
Once a punishment is given by the judge it goes out of his hand. It becomes irreversible and irrevocable. Hence before giving such death penalty it should be considered judicially with a fair mind. After some discussion the court declared Section 303 unconstitutional and punishments for murder by life convicts now will be given under Section 302 IPC i.e., a choice between death penalty and life imprisonment.
Attempt to Murder
The Section 307 gives the definition and punishment for attempt of murder. It states the following:-
1. Attempt to murder is an act done with intention and knowledge,
2. Done in such circumstances that if death is caused due to it, it will be called as murder,
3. The person committing such an attempt will be punished with imprisonment, whether simple or rigorous extended up to 10 years and also liable to pay fine,
4. If only hurt is caused to a person, the accused shall be punished with either imprisonment for life or the same punishment as mentioned above.
A wants to kill B. He bought poison and mixed it with B’s food. Till the food is still with A this is not a crime under this section. The moment A offers the food to be it becomes punishable under this Section.
This Section contains the ‘almost’ cases. All the cases which could not get completely executed and fell short for some reason they punished under this Section. The most important ingredients of this section are that, the offender must have intention to kill and should know that if they succeeded it shall be considered as murder. Unless their act was not capable enough to cause death of any person, it shall not be considered as an attempt to murder.
Attempt by Life Convicts
A person who is a life convict i.e., he is going through a sentence of life imprisonment, if he gets convicted for the attempt to murder where hurt is caused to some other person then he may be punished with death.
This is the second part of Section 307, which provides death penalty to all the life convicts that are found attempting the offence under this section due to which hurt was caused to people. It should be noticed how the language of the section use the word ‘may be punished’. Hence it is on the discretion of the court that it may prescribe death penalty to a life convict. Or if he is satisfied then it also has the power to reduce the death penalty to whatever is justified.
1. ‘A’ and ‘B’ had a fight. ‘C’ saw this and provoked ‘B’ to teach ‘A’ a lesson. In such provocation ‘B’ killed ‘A’. In this situation ‘B’ has committed culpable homicide but ‘B’ is punishable for committing Murder.
2. ‘P’ a police officer was trying to catch ‘S’ as he was suspected for being involved in a crime. In order to stop the policeman, in a haste ‘S’ fires his gun which killed ‘P’. This is a clear case of murder.
3. ‘R’ is a robber and he threatened ‘A’ to give his money. ‘A’ tried to stop ‘R’ and in such a manner ‘R’ got provoked and killed ‘A’. In this case there was provocation but the actions of ‘R’ are not justifiable as provocation was done for private defence. ‘R’ has committed murder.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can murder be justified?
It is not justified killing any human being but it is not punishable as well under any law. There are certain exceptions under the Section 300 where there it is mentioned four exceptional cases where killing of a human being is not considered as murder. Those exceptions are:-
b. Private Defence
c. Duty of Public Servant
d. Death Caused in sudden fight.
Except the above mentioned cases all the other cases of killing is either murder or culpable homicide. There are a few things common in these exceptions that are firstly, there shouldn’t be any intention or knowledge of the accused to cause death or a bodily injury that might cause death.
2. What is attempt to murder?
Attempt to murder is a crime where the act was done with the intention to cause death. But due to certain circumstances it could not get completed. Attempt to murder contain all the cases where there is intention and knowledge that if the act would have been completed it would cause death. Punishment regarding attempt to murder is mentioned under Section 307 of IPC.
3. Is attempt to murder bailable?
No, attempt to murder is not a Bailable offence. It a non- bailable offence. A non-bailable offence is when a person get caught and is detained, then only court other than high court or court of session can decide whether or not the accused cab be set out in public on bail or not.
 Prof. S.N. Mishra, Indian Penal Code, pg no. 463, 20th edition 2016, Central Law Publications, Allahabad.
State ( Delhi Administration) v. Laxman Kumar, 1986 Cri L.J. 155 (Sc).
Queen Empress v. Subba Naik and ors. (1898) ILR 21 Mad 249.
Mahanarain v. Emperor, [AIR 1946 All. 19.].
Rajendra Prasad v. State of U.P. , 1979 Cri. L.J. 792.
Buchan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684.
K. Covina Swami Pilli v. Govt. of India, (1986) .
Amrita v. State of Maharashtra, (983) Cri. L.J. 1057 (SC)S.
Sheikh Abdul Adzes v. State of Karnataka, (1977) AIR 1485.