By Ashish, Faculty of Law, The ICFAI University.
Culpable Homicide in the simplest understanding refers to taking the life of a person. The term constitutes of two words, culpable which refers to the mental element and homicide which refers to the physical element. Culpable denotes a ‘blameworthy state of mind’ and homicide refers to killing a person. Thus culpable homicide refers to taking life of another person, where the act has been done with criminal intent.
- Culpable Homicide
Culpable Homicide is defined in Section 299 of the IPC. If we study the definition we shall find that the definition stresses both on the physical and mental element, where an act is committed which is done with the intention of causing death, or with such knowledge that the act which he or she is going to undertake is going to kill someone, or causes such bodily or physical injury which will lead to a person’s death.
- Explanation one tells us that where knowingly a person accelerates someone’s death in such as situation it is considered culpable homicide.
E.g.: Y is diagnosed with terminal illness and needs certain drugs to live from day to day. X confines him in a room and denies him his medication as a result of which Y dies. X is guilty of Culpable Homicide.
- Explanation two tells us that where a person inflicts such bodily injury on someone and the latter dies because of such injury, it will not be an excuse that if the person had received medical attention his life would have been saved.
E.g.: Ganda mows over a pedestrian deliberately. The pedestrian bleeds on the road and no one helps him and he dies as a result of Ganda’s actions. Ganda cannot take the excuse that if the pedestrian had taken medical treatment at the right time, the pedestrian would have lived and there would be no culpable homicide.
- Explanation three tells us that abortion does not constitute culpable homicide. However if any part of the child is outside the womb, and the child is then killed, it constitutes culpable homicide. A word of caution, however, infanticide and abortion on the basis that the womb is bearing a female child is a criminal offence in India.
Culpable Homicide can happen by commission or by omission, i.e. by an overt or conscious act or failure to act, by which a person is, deprived of his/her life.
Ingredients of Culpable Homicide
The Act should be of such a nature that it would put to or damage someone’s life to such an extent that the person would die. In most cases the act would involve a high degree of violence against the person. Instances such stabbing a person in vital organs, shooting someone at point blank range, administering poison would include instances which would constitute culpable homicide.
Sometimes one is required to do certain dangerous acts, even in everyday life where there is a risk of death or causing hurt to such an extent that a person may die. Mundane things such as driving possess the potential of taking someone’s life. The question however is was the act committed with the “intention of causing death”. Thus where you push someone for a joke and the person falls on his head has a brain injury and dies, there was no “intention of causing death” but when you pushed the person deliberately with the idea that the person falls and dies, in that case the act is with the “intention of causing death” To prove intention in acts where there is bodily injury is “likely to cause death”, the act has to be can be of two types:
- where bodily injury itself is done in a fashion which causes death
- in situations where there are injuries and there are intervening events between the injuries and the death provided the delay is not so blatant, one needs to prove that injuries were administered with the intention of causing death.
Knowledge is different from intention to the extent that where a person may not have the intention to commit an act which kills, he knows that the act which he commits will take someone’s life or is likely to take someone’s life will be considered having the “knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death”.
Culpable Homicide Amounting to Murder
Section 300 deals with Culpable Homicide amounting to murder. In other words the
Section states that culpable homicide is murder in certain situations. This makes us come to two conclusions:
- For an act to be classified as murder it must first meet all the conditions of culpable homicide.
- All acts of murder are culpable homicide, but all acts of culpable homicides are not murder.
When an act is done with the intention of causing death
The degree of intention required is very high for murder. There must be intention present and the intention must be to cause the death of the person, not only harm or grievous hurt without the intention to cause death.
Instances would include:
- Shooting someone at point blank range.
- Stabbing someone in the hurt
- Hanging someone by the neck till he dies
- Strapping a bomb on someone
- Administering poison to someone Remember the act must be accompanied with the intention to “cause death.”
Bodily injury which causes death in the ordinary course of nature
These situations cover such acts where there is bodily injury which in ordinary sequence of events leads to the death of the person. Read the part of the section carefully. The section actually has two conditions:
- The bodily injury inflicted is inflicted with the intention of causing death of the person on whom it is inflicted
- The bodily injury caused in the ordinary course of events leads to death of someone.
Culpable Homicide Not Amounting to Murder
A situation must first become culpable homicide before it becomes murder. Though dealt with in detail in the following section, the basic difference between culpable homicide and murder is the level of intention involved. Where there is a very high level of intention involved the act usually falls under murder.
- Difference between culpable homicide and murder
The offender must have intention of causing such bodily harm which is likely to cause death.
The offender must know (not required in culpable homicide) that his act will cause death or the bodily injury will be sufficient in “ordinary course of nature to cause death” If you study both of these culpable homicide where there is almost sure to cause death if attempted elevates it to murder.
The offender must have knowledge of that the act which he will cause is likely to cause death.
The knowledge should be such that the act “committed in all probability would cause death”.