Distinction between Culpable Homicide and Murder

The heinous offence of killing of a person by another is termed as Murder, Culpable Homicide and Non-Culpable Homicide in India or in degrees such as First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder and Third Degree Murder in the United States of America, depending on the gravity of intention behind the act and the severity of the way of committing the crime.

In India, the crime of killing of a human being by another human being is broadly categorized as Culpable Homicide and Murder under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They are enlisted as distinct offences. But the definition and description of both Culpable Homicide under Section 299 IPC and Murder under Section 300 IPC look almost similar in terms of the terminology used. Therefore making out the distinction between them is bit difficult. The lack of distinction perplexes even the learned law professionals also.

The sections relating to Culpable Homicide and Murder are the weakest provisions in the Code in terms of clarity. The sections are obscure and may create confusion even in the minds of legal and judicial officers. Capable Homicide is defined in the code but neither Homicide nor Murder is, except by explanation.

Ingredients of the Sections 299 and 300 of IPC

The Section 299 of IPC defines Culpable Homicide as follows:-

Whoever causes death by doing an act with,

  1. Intention of causing death.
  2. Intentionally causing bodily injury which is likely to cause death.
  3. Doing act with knowledge that it is likely to cause death.

The Section 300 of IPC describes Murder as follows:-

Whoever causes death by doing an act with,

  1. Intention of causing death.
  2. Causing such bodily injury as the offender knows it is likely to cause death of person.
  3. Intentionally causing bodily injury which is sufficient to cause death.
  4. Doing act with knowledge that it is so imminently dangerous and in all probability causes death.

Culpable Homicide is a genus

Culpable Homicide is a genus whereas the Murder is its species. Therefore all Culpable Homicides are not Murders but all Murders are Culpable Homicides.

Culpable Homicide refers to doing a criminal act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing bodily injury which may eventually cause death, or doing an act with the knowledge that the act will result in death of the other.  In Culpable Homicide there must be intention or knowledge on the part of the accused that his act will cause death or at least injury which would be sufficient to cause death as a result of the injury.  

If a person is causing some injury to another one who is already suffering from some disease or some bodily infirmity and that injury accelerates the death of that person the person responsible for causing injury is liable for punishment for causing Culpable Homicide.  If the person doing the act has no intention to kill the other or has no knowledge that his act will kill the other person, the person doing the act is guilty of only a lesser crime than Culpable Homicide, but not Murder. A killing done without premeditation or on a passion or a sudden plight in the spur of a moment will not amount to Culpable Homicide coming under Section 299 of IPC.

In regard to Section 299 the Supreme Court in Jagriti Devi vs State Of H.P says, “The bare reading of the section makes it crystal clear that the first and the second clause of the section refer to intention apart from the knowledge and the third clause refers to knowledge alone and not intention. Both the expression "intent" and "knowledge" postulate the existence of a positive mental attitude which is of different degrees. The mental element in Culpable Homicide i.e. mental attitude towards the consequences of conduct is one of intention and knowledge. If that is caused in any of the aforesaid three circumstances, the offence of Culpable Homicide is said to have been committed”.

A husband struck a violent blow on his wife and the wife falls unconscious. Thinking that the wife is dead, he hung her body soon so as to create false evidence in regard to the incident. The court said that the husband had no intention to kill his wife and hence not punishable by Culpable Homicide as he has no intention to cause her death. He is punished for his original assault and for creating false evidence only.

Murder under IPC

A Culpable Homicide will turn into a Murder if the criminal act by which the death is caused, is done squarely with the purpose of causing death. Similarly, if the offender is causing bodily injury on victim with due intention or knowledge that it is likely or sufficient to cause death it will be treated as a case of Murder. An act so imminently dangerous enough to cause death or bodily injury that may likely to result in death will also be considered a Murder. Murder is the most heinous crimes in the criminal calendar.

In Murder, both the intention and knowledge of the offender about the dire consequences are important. If an act done by a person on the other is done with the chrystal clear intention or knowledge that the act will be likely or sufficient to kill a person, it is Murder. The essential ingredient of Murder is an unlawful act of causing death of a person through a criminal act or commission by another person with prior intent, malice or premeditation.

Though the words used in both the Sections of IPC look similar there is a subtle difference between both terms, in terms of their import. But the differentiation of both crimes retained in the Code is necessary so as to separate the most heinous killing from those which are less serious in nature.  The distinction between the imports of the sections can be made out only by analyzing the differences in illustration provided and in punishment given for the crime under each Section.

In regard to Section 300 the Supreme Court in Jagriti Devi vs State Of H.P says, “Section 300 IPC, however, deals with Murder although there is no clear definition of Murder provided in Section 300 IPC.“ and “Section 300 IPC further provides for the exceptions which will constitute Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder and punishable under Section 304. When and if there is intent and knowledge then the same would be a case of Section 304 Part I and if it is only a case of knowledge and not the intention to cause Murder and bodily injury, then the same would be a case of Section 304 Part II. The aforesaid distinction between an act amounting to Murder and an act not amounting to Murder has been brought out in the numerous decisions of this Court”.

The term intention means the state of mind to bring about a desired result whereas knowledge refers to the state of conscious awareness of the facts. Intention is different from motive which is hidden or cannot be unearthed easily. Intention and knowledge have to be unearthed from the circumstances as both are a state of mind invisible and subjective.

Inflicting an injury on the vital part of the body, use of sharp edged weapons, hitting with high force to impair body organs, through searching for the victim everywhere for acting upon him, uttering dreadful words in regard to killing immediately after killing, etc are being treated as circumstances that bring forth the dire intention of the accused in cases of Murder.

When Culpable Homicide is not Murder

However, some sorts of exceptional homicides do not come within the ambit of Murder. There are five exceptional circumstances in which a Culpable Homicide is not Murder, but just manslaughter - a term in English law.

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a person without malice - either express or implied - as provided under exceptions in Section 300 IPC.  The exceptional circumstances are as follows:-

Provocation: If the offender is deprived of the power of self control by grave or sudden provocation and he causes death of the provocateur or any other person, the offender is not punished for Murder.

Private defence: If the offender is exercising his act in good faith, without premeditation or intention to do no harm, the right to private defence will come into play. Then that is not Murder.

Exercise of legal powers: If the offender is a public servant and doing any act believing to be within his purview and caused death, it does not amount to Murder.

Absence of premeditation: If a person in a sudden heat of passion of a quarrel commits a killing without premeditation, it is not Murder.

Consent: When a person who is above 18 years of age and his death was caused with his voluntary consent, it is a case of Culpable Homicide but not Murder.

Distinction in probability of death in both crimes

Murder is an aggravated form of Culpable Homicide. The existence of any of the four clauses in the section 300 turns a killing into a Murder, while the exception to the section reduces even a heinous killing in the nature of Murder into one of Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder.

In both Culpable Homicide and Murder, there is mens rea - an intention to kill the victim. But in Culpable Homicide the accused is not certain of death of the victim but hopes for it. In Murder there is definite intention to kill and the offender is certain that the victim will die. The probability of death is certain in Murder whereas it is quite uncertain in Culpable Homicide.  Murder involves more premeditated actions than Culpable Homicide.

And in Murder the degree of probability of death is definite in comparison to Culpable Homicide. To constitute Murder there must be intention or knowledge that death must be the most probable result of the criminal act by the accused.  To constitute Murder the accused must have clear knowledge that his act must in all probability cause death rather than the bare knowledge that his act is likely to cause death.

Even if the intention of the accused was limited to the infliction of a bodily injury sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature, and did not extend to the intention of causing death, the rule laid down in the Virsa Singh case (1958 AIR 465) indicates that the offence would be Murder. The judgment says, “No one has a licence to run around inflicting injuries that are sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature and claim that  they are not guilty of Murder. If they inflict injuries of that kind, they must face the consequences; and they can only escape if it can be shown, or reasonably deduced that the injury was accidental or otherwise unintentional”.

Mechanism to differentiate Culpable Homicide and Murder

It is quite difficult to differentiate a Culpable Homicide from Murder if the facts of the case fall on the borderline between the two in terms of gravity of intention or seriousness of the action. But the apex court says as follows:-

First, establish that the accused has done an act of causing death of another. Then, consider whether the act of the accused amounts to Culpable Homicide.  Then, consider whether the ingredients of section 300 have been satisfied. Lastly, consider whether the killing can be brought down to the lower place of Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder by going through the exceptions under Section 300 IPC.  If the killing does not attract the ingredients of the section 300 explicitly or if it attracts the exceptions under the section, it will be a case of Culpable Homicide punishable under section 304 and not Murder. The matter to be considered at this point is whether the facts of the case fit well with the sections under section 300 - firstly to fourthly – to sustain the charge of Murder.

The offence would fall under Culpable Homicide if the bodily injury intended to be inflicted on the victim is likely to cause death; it would fall under Murder if such injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. The distinction is a question of degree of probability.  When the accused inflicts several injuries on the person having knowledge of causing death the accused deserves conviction for Murder.

Stabbing in chest or abdomen with sufficient force to penetrate such structures prima facie will amount to the offence of Murder.  When injuries are inflicted by a number of persons with the intention of killing and death ensures as a result of the injuries it is a case of Murder under the first clause of section 300 IPC. Similarly, giving a terrific blow on the head with a heavy hammer and thereby smashing the head bones he intends to cause death under section 300 (2) and (3) of IPC.

An act done with the knowledge of its consequence of merely causing death is not prima facie Murder, if it can be affirmed that there was no definite excuse allowable in the action it is a clear case of Murder. Only extremely reckless and wholly inexcusable act of homicide will constitute Murder.  

It is the degree of probability of death which determines whether a Culpable Homicide is of the gravest, medium or lowest degree. The section 299(2) conveys the sense of probability as distinguished from a mere possibility. The thirdly of section 300 means that death will be the most probable result of the injury in the ordinary course of nature.

Kinds of Culpable Homicides

Culpable Homicides are of three kinds in terms of punishment: -

  • Culpable Homicide of the first degree - Murder. This is the gravest form of killing with malice aforethought and punishable under Section 302 IPC
  • Culpable Homicide of the second degree - ordinary killing or manslaughter without malice. This is an act of Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder and punishable under IPC 304 Para I
  • Culpable Homicide of the third degree. This is the lowest kind of killing (voluntary manslaughter) and punishable under  IPC 304 Para II

The fourth degree Murder is involuntary manslaughter, which is done without any sort of criminal intention, such as death caused by negligent driving or such other criminal negligence - for which the punishment is much lesser, not exceeding two years imprisonment, or fine, or with both.

If an offence is done with intention and knowledge in regard to causing death it will be a case for second degree Culpable Homicide but there is only knowledge alone in regard to causing death, it is a case for third degree Culpable Homicide.

Punishment for Murder and Culpable Homicide

The punishment IPC prescribes for Murder under section 302 is death or imprisonment for life and fine, if any. Murder case is tried by the Court of Session.

There are two sets of punishments for Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder under Section 304.  One is punishment is imprisonment for life or for ten years and fine, and the other is imprisonment for 10 years or fine, or both.

The Supreme Court State of A.P. v. Rayavarapu Punnayya ( (1976) 4 SCC 38) says, “For the purpose of fixing punishment, proportionate to the gravity of this generic offence, the Code practically recognizes three degrees of Culpable Homicide.

The first is, what may be called, "Culpable Homicide of the first degree". This is the greatest form of Culpable Homicide, which is defined in Section 300 as "Murder". The second may be termed as "Culpable Homicide of the second degree". This is punishable under the first part of Section 304. Then, there is "Culpable Homicide of the third degree". This is the lowest type of Culpable Homicide and the punishment provided for it is, also, the lowest among the punishments provided for the three grades. Culpable Homicide of this degree is punishable under the second part of Section 304."


Even though both provisions relating to Culpable Homicide and Murder correspond with each other, the difference in both the offences – Culpable Murder and Murder - lies in the certainty of death in the latter.  In fact the difference is in regard to gravity - the seriousness of the act of crime.

If the act is so dangerous with no possibility of survival for the victim, it is an apt case of Murder. If a person dies out of an intentional act of cutting someone’s head, then there is no chance for his survival. Then that is nothing but Murder. If an act of crime leaves the victim with some chance for escaping death it is a case of Culpable Homicide.  

It would have been nice if the IPC had shown the difference between both crimes in clear terms using distinct set of words.

The author, now with Thrissur Bar, can also be reached at rajankila@hotmail.com


K Rajasekharan 
on 27 November 2017
Published in Criminal Law
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