The term culpable homicide and murder are the two most confusing terms in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. There is a faint line difference between both of them. Where section 299 of IPC defines Culpable homicide and section 300 deals with concept of murder. According to Sir James Stephen, the definition of culpable homicide and murder are the weakest part of the Code, as they are defined in forms closely resembling each other and at times it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two, as the causing of death is common in both. However, the basic difference between these two offences lies in the gravity with which the offence has been perpetrated. In common parlance Sec. 300 is a sub-set of the Sec. 299 (Culpable homicide is a genus and murder its specie), every unnatural human death is homicide but when it is coupled with intention and not only knowledge (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) then it is a murder.
In all the developed societies of the world, murder is considered to be a crime of the highest degree, and it is a common perception that a person who is convicted of murder be ousted from the society and receive serious punishments for the purposes of retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, or incapacitation. In most countries, a person convicted of murder generally faces a long-term prison sentence, possibly a life sentence; and in a few, the death penalty may be imposed. However, not all cases of homicide are culpable as almost all developed systems of law have marked a clear distinction between justified/lawful or unjustified/unlawful homicide. These distinction has been made in the legislature by providing for exceptions. Section 300 after laying down the cases in which culpable homicide becomes murder, states certain exceptional situations under which, if murder is committed, it is reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under Section 304 IPC and not under Section 302 of the IPC. Let us take a look at these exceptions one by one: –
EXCEPTION 1: GRAVE AND SUDDEN PROVOCATION
When the person on losing his self-control due to grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or of any other person due to mistake or accident, that person will not be liable for murder but for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Such grave and sudden provocation is the first exception to murder as provided under Sec 300 of the Indian Penal Code.
According to Hon’ble Chief Justice Goddard, as declared in the case of R vs. Duffy, “Provocation is some act, or series of acts done by the dead man to the accused which would cause in any reasonable person a sudden and temporary loss of self-control, making him for the moment not master of his mind.”
However, for it to be a valid defence, it must be noted, that this provocation should not be first initiated at the instance of the accused.
EXCEPTION 2: PRIVATE DEFENCE
Every human has an inherent right to defend his body as well as his property. However, it is essential for such a right to be exercised reasonably and in fairness. This exception cannot be used in cases where the use of this right has been exceeded. If the excess is intentional, the offence is Murder, if unintentional, it’s culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
In case of Lachhmi Koeri vs. State of Bihar, a policeman in civil uniform went to arrest appellant. The Hawaldar confronted appellant in which appellant’s shirt was torn. Then appellant took out his knife and gave a blow on Hawaldar’s arm. Later appellant gave several blows to Hawaldar and fled. The Hawaldar died shortly afterwards. Supreme Court held, “that the appellant initially had the right of private defence, but subsequently intended to cause more harm than was necessary for his defence. Therefore, appellant’s case did not come under this exception and was guilty under section 302 IPC for murder.”
In the above case, the right to self-defence as granted to the appellant had expired and the appellant had overused his right by causing more damage than what was necessary. Hence, the question to be answered by the court in the cases relating to self-defence in whether the use of such right in that case is reasonable or not.
EXCEPTION 3: EXERCISE OF LEGAL POWER
This exception has been added to the penal code to protect a public servant or a person aiding a public servant, if either of them exceeds the power given to them by the law to carry on their duties for the public welfare.
However, such an exception will not be applicable if the action in question is against the law or even the public policy. If the homicide committed was done during an illegal act of the public servant or if the act exceeded the power allotted to him by the law, then the act shall be a murder.
The question whether the public servant did or did not believe in the legality of his power is a question of fact to be decided upon the facts and circumstances of each cases.
In Dakhi Singh vs. State, a suspected thief was arrested by a police officer, while trying to escape by jumping down from the train from its off-side, he was shot dead by the police officer [finding himself not in a position to apprehend him], the court held that the accused is guilty of Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder and declared that, “it was a case where the officer though exceeded his legal powers did not have any ill will and committed the offence for the advancement of public justice.”
EXCEPTION 4: WITHOUT PREMEDITATION TO SUDDEN FIGHT
Sudden fight means when the fight was unexpected or premeditated. In such cases, there is no intention of either of the parties to kill or cause the death of any person. It is not at all an important fact in such cases that which party has first assaulted or who have offered a provocation.
The Apex court in Surendar Kumar v. Union Territory, Chandigarh (1989) 2 SCC 217 summarized the principles as follows:
- it was a sudden fight
- there was no premeditation
- the act was done in a heat of passion and
- the assailant had not taken any undue advantage or acted in a cruel manner.
EXCEPTION 5 – CONSENSUAL HOMICIDE
The last exception as listed under section 300 IPC deals with causing death by consent which is commonly known as ‘Euthanasia’ (mercy killing). According to this Exception, culpable homicide is not murder when the person whose death is caused being above the age of 18 years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent.
Supreme Court in the case of Dasrath Paswan v. State of Bihar, held that,
“the deceased was above the age of 18 years and she had suffered the death with her own consent. The deceased did not give the consent under the fear of injury, nor under a misconception of fact, but voluntarily, and so the case will fall under Exception 5 of section 300, IPC. Such cases in common law fall under the suicide pacts, and it shall be manslaughter and not murder.”
Therefore, from the above explanation it is concluded that whenever a court is confronted with a case in which the question is whether a killing is murder or culpable homicide, the court has to determine if any of the exceptions as listed under Sec 300 of IPC are applicable in the case or not.
- Dakhi Singh vs. State AIR 1955 All 379, 1955 CriLJ 905.
- Dasrath Paswan v. State of Bihar AIR 1958 Pat 190, 1958 (6) BLJR 60, 1958 CriLJ 548.
- Lachhmi Koeri vs. State of Bihar AIR 1960 Pat 62, 1960 CriLJ 271.
- R v Duffy 1 All ER 932.
- Surendar Kumar v. Union Territory, Chandigarh (1989) 2 SCC 217.
- Section 299, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Section 300, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Section 302, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Section 304, Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Sir Prince, Legal Services India, Murder and Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder-Distinction, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2637-murder-and-culpable-homicide-not-amounting-to-murder-distinction.html. [Last Accessed on 19th August 2020 at 8:38 am]