Culpable Homicide and Murder

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 you study the definition you 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.

Also read the explanations to the Section which are actually clarifications to the Section.

1. Explanation One: Tells us that where knowingly a person accelerates someone’s death in such as situation it is considered culpable homicide.

Example: 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.

2. 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.

Example: 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

3.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. Now let us study the ingredients in detail.


1. Acts

The Act should be of such a nature that it would put to peril someone’s life 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.

However this is not always the rule and there are exceptions to this rule. Remember the section says “causes death by doing an act”, so given the special circumstances certain acts which may not involve extreme degree of violence, but may be sufficient to cause someone’s death.

For example, starving someone may not require violence in the normal usage of the term, but may cause a person’s death. The Section also covers administration of bodily injury which is “likely” to cause death.

2. Intention

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. Firstly where bodily injury itself is done in a fashion which cause death. For example bludgeoning someone on the head repeatedly with a blunt instrument. 

Secondly 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.

3. Knowledge

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”.

For example, a doctor uses an infected syringe knowingly on a patient thereby infecting him with a terminal disease. The act by itself will not cause death, but the doctor has knowledge that his actions will lead to someone’s death.

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By Hassham

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