Attempt to commit murder and culpable homicide
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This article has been written by Nehal Misra, a student at Nirma University, Ahmedabad. In this article, she discusses the role of intention to cause death with respect to culpable homicide.

Introduction

Homicide has been derived from the Latin word ‘homo’ which means a man and ‘caedere’ which means to cut or kill. Thus, homicide refers to the killing of a human being. All cases of homicide are not culpable (punishable). Law distinguishes between lawful and unlawful homicide. Culpable Homicide has been defined under Section 299 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. It consists of both physical and mental elements. Homicide is one of the most grievous actions a person may perform because it is considered the highest order of physical harm inflicted on a human being, and that is why the homicide laws are stricter. For example, convicted persons are typically sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty because these are the two most severe punishments provided by the judiciary. In India, homicide is divided into two forms- Culpable Homicide (IPC Section 299) and Culpable Homicide amounting to murder under Section 300 of the IPC. Both of them have a very small difference, but these differences prove to be very important for the legal system in order to produce a fair decision. “Intention” is one such significant parameter for assessing culpable homicide. The word “culpable” was derived from the Latin term culpabilis, meaning “to blame.” It is coupled with a “guilty mind” or “criminal intent.” Section 299 of the IPC states “Whoever causes death by an act intended to cause death commits the act of homicide.” Section 300 stipulates the aforementioned definition while adhering to the exceptions. It states that “if the act by which death is caused is committed with the intention of causing death,” then the culpable homicide will amount to murder. The intention, though, is inseparable from both guilty homicide and murder.

Interpretation of the word “intention”

The intention is said to have been formed when knowledge of a particular consequence is supported by the will to cause such a consequence. It can also be called “aforethought malice.” Every voluntary act is given effect due to the presence of determination and willingness to trigger that act. The key element of purpose is this conviction combined with knowledge of the effect. This can also be defined as the state of mind that precedes a conscious act. The desire to perform a particular act can be called volition and this desire constitutes “will” when a person works for the achievement of some purpose. The will drives the performance of an act. The criminality of an act can not be disputed if an individual thinks, prepares, and implements the action at that stage. In the case of Morcha v. State of Rajasthan, it was held that anything that is caused deliberately, with or without elaborate devices, will be held as performing that act with intent. The virtual certainty about the act’s consequence would be construed as the intention of causing that act. In the case of Om Prakash v. State of M.P, the accused assaulted the victim’s vital organs with a deadly weapon. It was deduced that he had plotted his crime and then executed it, so he had an intention to perform it. In some cases, when the intention is formed in the spur of the moment, it cannot be ruled out. In the case of Nishan Singh v. State of Punjab, the accused didn’t possess any weapons but he snatched someone else’s weapon and caused the deceased ‘s death. The court held that he has the intent to cause death.

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The intention is different from other mental elements such as “knowledge” and “likely to cause death.” In the case of Ashok Kumar Barik v. State of Orissa, it was held that knowledge is just an awareness of the consequence of the act, without volition or desire to perform that act. An act which is “likely to cause death” is of a lower degree due to the presence of uncertainty. In Ganga Bai v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the accused tried to prevent his sister-in-law from leaving her husband’s home. He hit her with a scythe. She died from the injury. The court held that the accused knew his act was “likely to cause death” but had no real intention of killing her. Although knowledge can form a part of all the three mental elements, the determination of the will and the certainty of the consequence if a person intends to perform that act. “Knowledge” and “likeliness to cause death” would be referred to as oblique intent.

The intent should also be distinguished from motive. At times, the act and the consequence may seem innocent, but the mental condition preceding the conscious act must be known in order to determine intention. The motive is that force which fuels intent. The intention may be the immediate purpose of committing an act whereas the motive behind any such act would be the ulterior reason. So, motive can be said to have a ‘dynamic’ while intention has a ‘telescopic’ aspect to it. In DPP v. Smith, the accused drove a stolen car and when the police ordered him to stop, he attempted to accelerate and the policeman also accelerated his car in order to catch the culprit, but he died in the chase. The court decided that if the accused demonstrates intention on being judged from a reasonable man’s perspective, then only he will be convicted. Thus, the case suggested a “prudent man test”. This principle was said to be appropriate since it objectively judged the accused, taking into account all the relevant circumstances. But in such cases, the objective test was not practised as a rule, since the intention is considered a mental concoction and can not be determined merely by judging a person from a reasonable man’s parameters, as every individual is different. 

Determination of Intention to cause death with respect to culpable homicide

In the case of State of Haryana v. Pala and Ors, it was held that the intent is locked in the assailant’s heart, and can only be inferred from the attending act and circumstances. Proving intent or purpose is a daunting job for the judiciary and, thus, attention should be given to the specifics of any case at the time of its commission. The facts of the case provide an assisting hand in that decision. The subjective test demonstrates its advantage while determining such intent. A host of these circumstances would include the nature of the crime, the type of weapon used by the accused, the extent of the injury, the part of the body on which the injury was inflicted (Amir and Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh), the conduct of the accused before and after the commission of the act, which would help in validating the establishment of the culpable purpose (Sher Muhammad v. State of Madhya Pradesh). 

In the case of Pulicherla Nagaraju v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the court held that the law for determining intention or aim has been elaborately laid down. It considered factors such as the type of the weapon used, whether the weapon was borne by the accused or picked up on the spot, whether the blow was aimed at a critical part of the body, the amount of force used to inflict harm, whether the act was in the course of a sudden fight or sudden struggle, whether the incident occurred by chance or if there was any premeditation, whether there was any previous enmity or whether the deceased was a stranger, whether there was any serious and sudden provocation, and if so, the cause of such provocation, whether it was in the heat of passion, and whether the person who inflicted the injury took advantage of it or acted in a cruel and unusual manner. In the present case, the accused possessed a dangerous weapon, a Barisa. There was enmity between the two. An incident occurred half an hour before the commission of the act, and the deceased didn’t possess any weapons. There was no provocation or sudden fight. The accused stabbed the deceased with great force which caused injury to the vital part of his body and was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. It was held that he clearly had the intention to cause the death of the deceased.

If evidence or facts suggest that the part of the accused had been premeditated to inflict such injury, then it can be construed as intention. In Mahesh Balmiki v. State of M.P, the accused called the deceased at a particular place. He had brought a knife with him, and he stabbed the deceased after a heated exchange of words. The whole plot was premeditated and, therefore, the intention was obvious. But this doesn’t imply that intention can not be produced if there’s no premeditation. Given the circumstances of the case, the intention may also be produced at the moment of the crime. It was held, in Dharma, alias Dharam Singh v. The State (Delhi Administration), that the mere absence of premeditation could not lead to the conclusion that there was no intention. Sometimes, the seriousness of the crime also leads to the determination of the intention but, without any circumstantial evidence, it can not be taken as a concrete ground. In the case of serious and immediate provocation, the application of the objective rule (Rex v. Lesbini) becomes necessary as such crimes provide an edge to the accused. While applying for the test, the time taken by a reasonable or prudent man to calm down in such situations must be taken into account. Provocation can cause loss of self-control, where malice does not exist, which is imperative for the formation of an intent to kill (Holmes v DPP). Since, in the case of provocation, the accused has no time to think, reflect, or plan, so it raises serious doubts while determining the “presence of intention” to commit a crime. But the gravity and promptness of provocation must be such that it would deprive the accused of self-control and should have caused the death of the person or any person by mistake or accident during the continuation of such deprivation (K.M. Nanavati v State of Maharashtra).

In the case of Delhi’s Chote Lal Shrivastava v State of NCT, both the accused and the victim were playing Holi. They were all under the influence of liquor and soon began to harass each other. Previously, there had been no animosities or such verbal exchanges between them. At this time, they didn’t possess any weapons either. But the deceased was suddenly seen with a lathi which provoked the accused to get a vegetable knife from his home. The accused gave the deceased a single blow, and he died. Here, the court ruled that the element of intent was missing. His intent to cause death could have been established, had he either inflicted a very serious injury or more than one injury. Had he shared a bitter relationship, it would have strengthened the claim. If true, such conditions may have established motive without a reasonable doubt and so as the willingness to commit such an act coupled with the certainty of the consequence. But in the case of Jagrup Singh v. State of Punjab, the court said the mere fact that a single blow is being given can not always negate the intent. To gather intention, it is necessary to consider the nature of the weapon used, the part hit by the body, the amount of force employed, and the circumstances attending death.

In the case of Goudappa and Ors v. State of Karnataka, the accused blamed the deceased for not being able to keep his daughter happy, who was married to the deceased. He stabbed the deceased on his chest with a Jambia which resulted in profuse bleeding. The other four accused, along with him, were carrying an axe and with this, they started destroying the victim’s property. In this case, the court ruled that the design of the weapon and the extent of the assault was the determining factor for the intention of the accused. In V.K. Verma v. CBI, the court held that its concern is regarding the nature of the activity seen as a crime or infringement of law. Culpability depends on the severity of the act. The mitigating or aggravating factors have to be decided by focusing on the nature and mode of commission of an offence. In Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab, Justice Vivian Bose J. stated that the existence of physical injury, the severity of the injury, an incident factor, and sufficiency to cause death are the four basic elements that need to be identified in case of a physical injury. Determining whether the accused intended to inflict a serious injury or a minor injury is not necessary but whether he intended to cause the injury is pertinent. If the possibility of such an extremely serious injury is confirmed to be true, the intention will be assumed, unless the facts or circumstances warrant an inference to the contrary.

It can’t always be construed that there is no intention to kill a person if he caused death by a single blow. If the blow is serious enough to kill a person at once, then failure to cause multiple injuries does not serve as a mitigating factor. It can be substantiated by Jai Prakash v State (Delhi Administration) and State of Karnataka v Vedanayagam State where the intention was determined only through one single blow inflicted by the accused. Likewise, the accused inflicted a knife injury on the deceased, in Abdul Waheed v State of Maharashtra, which was 3 inches deep over some paltry matter. The Supreme Court held that, in the ordinary course of nature, the injury manifested the intention of causing death, as it was sufficient to cause death. So, if the circumstances reflect the intention and act as the corroborative device in forming an intention, combining all the factors, then the accused will be said to have formed the intention to cause death.

                   

Recommendations

The Rules of Intent are set very clearly. The fixed ingredient of intention would include knowledge coupled with determining the will and certainty of the consequences, and distinguishing intention from “knowledge” and “likely to result in death”. While assessing a person’s intent to cause death, the question arises relating to the intent and the factors leading to the development of that intent, but at times they might not lead to precise conclusions. This can happen in cases of “intentional accident” disguised as a mere “accident.” In such cases, the accused’s intent is very hard to deduce. If an accident is purposefully plotted, then it is difficult to determine the intention according to the parameters. The courts should not rule out the likelihood of a purposeful accident in such cases and should consider it as a possibility that heeds the past relationship between the accused and the victim.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that intention is a strictly subjective aspect. To infest a person’s mind it does not need any defined ground rules. However, since “a person is what he thinks,” the court needs to spy on the accused’s minds and apply certain parameters to determine whether the person intended to cause death. The parameters set out in the matter are merely tools that assist in determining intent and may not always be conclusive. So, there must be an extensive observation to arrive at the correct determination. After all, “murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it’s injuring so that society must take the victim’s place and demand expiation or grant forgiveness on his behalf.” The ambit of culpable homicide is very extensive and is of practical use. It includes all the felonious murders that are not worthy of being called a murder. It is a killing that the murderer has neither intended nor foresaw as likely to occur; it is an accidental, reprehensible, felonious killing. There have been many instances in which this field of law has also been used and applied correctly. Sections 299, 301, 304, 304A of the IPC deal in a detailed manner with the numerous aspects covered by this article, all the provisions are not exhaustive and much of the Law Commission’s recommendations for better administration of justice need to be put into practice, as it will help to invoke this subject with time.

References


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