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Culpable Homicide (IPC)

Updated: May 12


Culpable Homicide (IPC)
Culpable Homicide (IPC)

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Homicide 


Homicide, derived from "homo" meaning human and "cide" meaning killing, can be lawful or unlawful. Lawful homicide includes excusable and justified homicide, while unlawful homicide encompasses culpable homicide not amounting to murder, murder, homicide by rash or negligent acts, dowry death, suicide, and attempt to murder/culpable homicide.



The distinguishing factors among these categories are the degree of intention, knowledge, or recklessness involved in the act.



According to the Indian Penal Code, the term "act" also extends to illegal omissions unless stated otherwise, and it includes both single acts and a series of acts considered as a single act.


Similarly, "omission" refers to a single or series of omissions. In cases of culpable homicide or murder, the term "act" encompasses not only single acts but also series of acts.



An action is deemed to be voluntary if it is carried out intentionally or through means known or believed likely to cause a particular effect. Even if the person did not intend the outcome, if they were aware of the likelihood of that outcome, they are considered to have caused it voluntarily.



Furthermore, actions or beliefs are not considered to be in good faith if they are carried out or held without due care and attention. This principle underscores the importance of exercising caution and responsibility in one's actions and beliefs.



It may be noted at the outset that all homicides are not punishable, for example, homicide coming under General Exceptions are excused (or lawful). In these cases, there is a relation between cause and death but the guilty mind is absent.



That means when a homicide is committed with a guilty mind then it is punishable. Such homicide would be either ‘culpable homicide’ or ‘murder.’


A homicide with a highest degree of intention or knowledge is ‘murder’, while a homicide with a higher degree of intention or knowledge is ‘culpable homicide.’

 
 

Sec. 299: Culpable Homicide


“Whoever causes death, by doing an act with the intention of causing death,

or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death,

or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide”


Illustrations

  • A lays sticks and turf over a pit, with the intention of thereby causing death, or with the knowledge that death is likely to be thereby caused. Z, believing the ground to be firm, falls in and is killed. A has committed the offence of culpable homicide. 


  • A knows Z to be behind a bush. B does not know it. A, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely to cause Z’s death, induces B to fire at the bush. B fires and kills Z. Here B may be guilty of no offence, but A has committed the offence of culpable homicide. 


  • A, by shooting at a foul with intent to kill and steal it, kills B, who is behind a bush; A not knowing that he was there. Here, although A was doing an unlawful act, he was not guilty of culpable homicide, as he did not intend to kill B, or to cause death by doing an act that he knew was likely to cause death.



  • Whoever causes death 


If someone causes death, it doesn't matter if the intended victim wasn't the one killed; as soon as any person dies, the offence is complete. However, the death must be a proximate consequence of the violent act, not a remote one.



The act must be the direct cause of death, not just a contributing factor. For example, if an injury is not initially serious but leads to death due to subsequent complications, the offence may not be applicable.



If death results from deliberately spoken words intended to cause harm, it constitutes culpable homicide. Similarly, if someone gives another person the choice to kill themselves or endure torture and the person chooses suicide, the instigator would be liable for culpable homicide.



Speaking can also be considered an "act" under the law. Intention can be inferred from the words spoken, the motive of the accused, and the severity of the actions taken.



For instance, if someone intentionally wakes a sick person, causing their death, or deliberately startles someone with a heart condition, resulting in their death, they would be liable for murder. Under English law, homicide is only recognized if death results from bodily injury caused by an act or omission.



  • By doing an act with the intention of causing death - By performing an act with the intent to cause death, it's crucial to recognize that acts encompass illegal omissions as well.

 
 

Intention, a factual matter, is discerned from the parties' actions. The law considers the natural outcomes of one's actions rather than their mental state, although the latter is pertinent in criminal proceedings. One is presumed to intend the ordinary consequences of their actions, irrespective of their immediate objective.



Intention is not about premeditation but about the actual intention at the moment, inferred from the accused's acts and circumstances. Inflicting serious injury on a vital body part with a dangerous weapon naturally implies intent to kill.



For instance, firing successive shots at a person demonstrates clear murderous intent. The choice of weapon, location of the injury, force, and frequency of the blows all contribute to inferring intention.



  • With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death - It signifies an intention to cause a specific injury, which injury is, or proves to be, likely to cause death. The focus is not on death itself, but on the effect of the injury. Thus, if bodily injury sufficient to cause death is inflicted, the accused's intent to cause death is irrelevant. For instance, in a case where a person falsely arrested in a dacoity case is brutally beaten at the police station, resulting in his death, the perpetrators are guilty of culpable homicide.



The distinction between the intentions to cause death and to cause bodily injury likely to cause death lies in degrees of criminality, with the latter being less severe. However, as both aim at the same outcome, the law does not differentiate in punishment.



The connection between the act and the resulting death must be direct and distinct; not immediate, but not too remote either.


There must be a clear cause-and-effect relationship, known as causa causans. For example, in a case where a person jumps into a well to escape pursuers and dies, the pursuers cannot be held responsible for the death as it was not directly caused by their actions.



In Moti Singh v State of UP, it was emphasised that the primary cause and the victim's death should not be too far apart. In this case, the deceased was injured during an incident, but died 20 days later. Without a postmortem examination, it was difficult to ascertain the cause of death, whether it was due to the accused's injury or negligence in medical treatment post-discharge.



  • With the knowledge that he is likely by such an act to cause death - Knowledge, in contrast to intention, carries a sense of certainty rather than mere probability. Intention refers to the purpose or design behind an act, coupled with the desire for it, while knowledge indicates an awareness of the consequences of the act. In the case of Kesar Singh v State of Haryana, the Supreme Court clarified that "likely" means probably, not possibly. Thus, an intended injury likely to cause death implies an injury sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, making death the most probable result.



When a person inflicts an injury endangering life voluntarily, except in exceptional circumstances, it's presumed they know they are likely to cause death. For instance, kicking someone's abdomen violently enough to cause fracture and rupture implies knowledge of the likely fatal outcome.



In situations where a gunshot fired to scare leads to a fatal injury or where beating a possessed person results in death, the perpetrators are held liable for culpable homicide due to their knowledge of the probable consequences of their actions.



The term "knowledge" encompasses instances of reckless acts leading to death because recklessness implies awareness of the likely result despite the risks. For example, striking someone under the mistaken belief of targeting a ghost, without verifying, amounts to an offence under Sec. 299.



Similarly, in cases where gross negligence leads to death, such as placing an unconscious person on a pyre without ensuring they're deceased, the accused are held liable under Sec. 304, Part II, for acting with gross negligence rather than intention.



If two individuals independently wound someone with murderous intent, and the combined injuries lead to death when neither alone would have, both are liable for culpable homicide under Sec. 299.



Each knew their actions were likely to cause death. Death caused without the requisite intention or knowledge constitutes a lesser offence, such as hurt or grievous hurt. For instance, if a blow intended for one person accidentally causes the death of another, the perpetrator is liable only for causing grievous hurt, not culpable homicide, under the principle of transfer of malice.




Explanations to Sec. 299


Explanation I: “A person who causes bodily injury to another who is labouring under a disease, disorder or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerates the death of the other, shall be deemed to have caused his death”.



One of the elements of culpable homicide, as outlined in Sec. 299, requires the court to establish two conditions: firstly, that the death is not solely caused by disease at the time it occurs, and secondly, that it is accelerated by bodily injury to some extent.



It's crucial for the accused to be aware that the condition of the deceased was such that their act was likely to cause death to be found guilty of culpable homicide.


In cases where the inflicted injury, such as one caused by a light bamboo stick, wouldn't typically result in death but does due to an underlying ailment unknown to the accused, they may be held liable for grievous hurt instead [Megha Meeah (1865) 2WR (CR) 39].



However, another perspective is evident in the case of Munni Lal (1943) All 853. Here, the accused unintentionally caused the death of the deceased, who had an enlarged spleen, by sitting on their chest and strangling them.


While the individual injuries alone may not have been fatal, collectively they led to the rupture of the spleen, resulting in death.



As the accused was unaware of the deceased's medical condition, they were found guilty of culpable homicide under the second part of Sec. 304 rather than Sec. 325 for grievous hurt.

 
 

Explanation II: “Where death is caused by bodily injury, the person who causes such bodily injury, shall be deemed to have caused the death, although by resorting to proper remedies and skilful treatment the death might have been prevented”.



The rationale behind this provision is evident: the responsibility lies with the accused for the natural outcomes of their actions, regardless of whether proper remedies or skilled treatment were available to the injured party.


The absence of better medical facilities nearby does not alter the nature of the offence [Bicchu v The State AIR 1958 All. 791; Sellappan v State of T.N. (2007) 15 SCC 327].



Similarly, the excuse of unavailable immediate expert treatment for the victim holds no weight for the accused [Morcha v State of Rajasthan, 1978 CrLJ 1710]. It is the injury inflicted by the accused that necessitated the subsequent treatment or operation.



Even if the victim's death results from improper treatment, the accused cannot evade guilt, provided the treatment was given in good faith by a competent medical professional.


For instance, in a case where a husband kicked his wife and a surgeon administered brandy to her as a restorative, causing her death, the accused was found guilty of manslaughter [McIntyre (1847) 2 Cox 379].



However, in situations where a simple injury leads to death due to improper remedies and neglect in treatment, the accused cannot be held liable for culpable homicide under Sec. 304.


An example is when an individual caused a minor injury and the victim later died of septic meningitis due to incorrect treatment [Sobha (1935) 11 Luck 401].



Explanation III: “The causing of the death of a child in the mother’s womb is not homicide. But it may amount to culpable homicide to cause the death of a living child, if any part of that child has been brought forth, though the child may not have breathed or been completely born



According to the Code, 'death' can only be caused to a living human being (Sec. 46, IPC). A child in the mother’s womb is considered part of the mother’s life and lacks separate or independent existence.


Nonetheless, a person causing injury to a child in the mother’s womb or causing miscarriage can be prosecuted (Secs. 312, 315-16, IPC).



The Explanation to Sec. 299 specifies that as soon as any part of the child is brought forth from the womb, it attains the status of a living human being, and causing the death of such a child may constitute culpable homicide.


This explanation treats causing the death of a newly born child as equally serious as causing the death of a fully grown human being.



The phrase "though the child may not have breathed" implies that a child may be born alive even if it does not breathe properly. Thus, complete birth is not a requirement. Unlike English law, under Indian law, any part of the child emerging from the mother’s womb is sufficient to grant it a separate legal identity.



Section 301: Homicide by Mistake or Accident [Doctrine of Transferred Malice]


Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended -“If a person by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the intended person”.



This section embodies what English authors refer to as the doctrine of 'transfer of malice' or 'trans-migration of motive'. The change of person or the occurrence of an accident does not alter the offence or its consequences, as the crime lies in the deliberate commission of a prohibited act.



For instance, if A aims a thrust at B, but C jumps in between and dies, A is guilty regardless of whether C was within sight or not. Similarly, if A aims a shot at B, but it misses B and kills C instead, A is deemed to have intended to kill C.



Section 301 applies when an act intended for one victim unintentionally affects another. It reflects the idea that where an act is inherently criminal, its commission constitutes an offence regardless of the identity of the harmed individual. Although this principle is not explicitly stated in Sec. 299, it can be inferred from the broad language of "causes death".



In a case where a wife poisoned her husband's food, which was also consumed by four others resulting in one death, she was held guilty of murder.


Similarly, if A gives a poisoned apple to his wife intending to harm her, but she unknowingly gives it to a child who dies, A would be guilty of murder even if he tried to dissuade his wife from giving the apple to the child.



The intention to cause death should not be interpreted as the intention to cause the death of any particular person. Whether the offence is murder or culpable homicide depends on the intention or knowledge the offender had regarding the person intended or likely to be harmed, not the person actually harmed.



The doctrine of transfer of malice is subject to certain qualifications:


  • The harm that follows must be of the same kind as intended.


  • The usual mens rea requirement must be met, meaning that there is no guilt if the intended force was lawful.

 
 

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