Distinction between Murder and Culpable Homicide


All Murders are culpable Homicides. But all Culpable Homicides are not Murder?

Introduction: 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). Murder is defined under Section 300, and culpable homicide under section 299 of the IPC. The definition and description of both look almost similar. Therefore, the distinction between them is difficult and perplexes not only law students, but even learned law professionals.

In the scheme of the Penal Code, culpable homicide is genus and murder its specie. This, all murder is culpable homicide but all culpable homicide is not murder. The word ‘homicide’ comes from Latin where homo means man and cide means I cut. Thus, homicide means the killing of a man by man, or the killing of a human being by another human being. Culpable homicide is death through human agency and is punishable by law.

Section 299 defines Culpable Homicide as:

Whosoever causes death by doing an act with the – 

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

There are two classes of Culpable Homicide:
1. Culpable Homicide Amounting to Murder: It is simply known as murder.

2. Culpable homicide not amounting to Murder: There is a criminal knowledge in both. However, the difference does not lie in quality but in the quantity or rather the degree of criminality closed by the act. In murder, there is greater intention or knowledge while committing the act than in culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Section 300 defines Murder as:

With certain exceptions, culpable homicide is murder if –

  1. The act is done with the intention of causing death.
  2. The act is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows it is likely to cause death of a person.
  3. The act is done with the intention of causing bodily injury which is sufficient to cause death.
  4. The person does the act with knowledge that it is so imminently dangerous and, in all probability, causes death.

Section 300 of the IPC also mentions 4 exceptions where culpable homicide does not amount to murder. They are:

  1. Sudden and Grave Provocation – Sometimes a person loses his self-control for a moment and commits such as act. The person in this case will be held for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
  2. Private Defense – It is based on the rule that a person may inflict harm on an individual if there is imminent danger to his self or property from that individual. 
  3. Offence committed by a public servant – When the person causes death by doing an act which he in good faith believes to be lawful and necessary for the discharge of his duty as such public servant and acting for the advancement of public justice or aid for public. However, the act must be done without any ill-will towards the person whose death is caused, and must not exceed the powers given to him by law.
  4. Death caused by sudden fight – Sudden fight must be without premeditation and must occur in the heat of passion upon sudden quarrel.

Distinction between Culpable Homicide and Murder

According to Sir James Stephen, the definition of culpable homicide and murder are the weakest part of the code. They are defined in terms that closely resemble each other and at times it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two as the causing of death is the common element in both. However, the difference between culpable homicides and murder is very fine and based upon a very subtle and small distinction of the intention and knowledge involved in the crime. The true difference lies in the degree, or as previously said, in the quantity rather than the quality, there being the greater intention or knowledge of the fatal consequences in the case of murder than in the case of culpable homicide.

The question is whether the death of a man is to be treated as culpable homicide or murder. The word ‘culpable’ denotes a ‘blameworthy state of mind’, and the word ‘homicide’ refers to killing a person. Thus, culpable homicide refers to taking the life of another person, where the act has been done with criminal intent.

There is a very thin line of difference between the murder and culpable homicide. The difference between the two is only of the intention to commit murder. If A kills B and A had no intention to kill then the crime is said to be committed under section 299 i.e. Culpable homicide and if A had an intention to kill by then the crime is said to have been committed under section 300.

In Culpable Homicide, the offender must have the intention of causing such bodily harm which is likely to cause death. In murder, the offender must know and be aware that the act will cause death or the bodily injury will be sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death.

For example, suppose the offender has used the sharp weapon and struck on the vital part of the body. Naturally, the injury is sufficient to cause the death and the offender has the knowledge that his act is an imminent danger and, in all probability, death is bound to occur. This kind of death is called murder. On the other hand, where the blunt and hard weapon like knives are used and injuries are caused in hard parts of the body such as the brain, death becomes more likely rather than probable and therefore it is culpable homicide and not murder.

Conclusion: Murder is an aggravated form of culpable homicide. The major difference lies in the fact that in murder, the act is done with an intention of causing any bodily injury which itself is sufficient to cause death of a person. Whereas in case of a Culpable homicide, the act is performed with an intention to cause bodily injury which is likely to cause death of a person. In murder, the offender has a definite knowledge that the act would result in the death while as in culpable homicide the knowledge is not so definite. The probability of causing death is higher in murder than culpable homicide.


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