This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of the relevance of intention in determining whether an offence is murder or culpable homicide.
Intention is a significant element in all crimes. It becomes crucial with respect to both culpable homicide and murder because it is the degree of the intention of the accused which is responsible for determining the degree of crime. Put simply, the mental element of the accused is sufficient enough to decide whether a particular kind of act results in culpable homicide amounting to murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder as provided under Sections 300 and 299 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 respectively. While discussing the concepts of culpable homicide and murder, it is necessary to note that every murder is a culpable homicide but every culpable homicide is not murder. Thus, while culpable homicide is a genus, murder is its species.
Involvement of intention in culpable homicide
The term ‘homicide’ is a Latin word that literally means ‘the murdering of a human being’. Under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, homicide becomes culpable when a human being terminates the life of another in a blameworthy manner. Culpability is determined by the accused’s knowledge, purpose, and method of action. The offence can be punished under Section 302 or Section 304, which is divided into two parts. The essential ingredients constituting culpable homicide have been provided hereunder:
- There must be a person’s death;
- The death should have resulted from the act of another person;
- The act which resulted in the death must have been done with;
- The intention of causing death;
- The intention of causing such bodily injuries which can lead to death;
- The knowledge that such an act is likely to cause death.
In State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Rayavarapu Punnayya and Another (1976), it was held that culpable homicide without the special characteristics of murder is culpable homicide not amounting to murder, falling under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It was further held that there are three degrees of culpable homicide.
- The first is murder under Section 300,
- The second is culpable homicide not amounting to murder falling under the first part of Section 304, and;
- The third is culpable homicide amounting to murder falling under the second part of Section 304.
The phrases ‘intention’ and ‘knowledge’ imply the presence of a positive mental attitude, as observed by the Supreme Court of India in the notable case of Jagriti Devi vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2009). It was also decided that if both intent and knowledge were present, the case fell under the first part of Section 304, however, if there was simply the presence of knowledge and no desire to inflict murder by physical damage, the case fell under the second part of Section 304.
It is always difficult to establish direct proof of intent. However, the intention may be gathered and inferred from a person’s actions and the circumstances surrounding them, such as the accused’s purpose, the nature of the assault, the time and place of the attack, the weapons used, the nature of the injuries caused to the dead, and so on. These and other criteria may be taken into account when determining whether or not someone had the required purpose. When vital areas of the body, like the abdomen, are injured by a deadly or sharp-edged object, the unavoidable conclusion is that the accused meant to murder the deceased. This was the observation made by the Supreme Court of India in the 1972 case of Chahat Khan v. the State of Haryana.
The relation between murder and intention
Section 300’s first clause states that if an act (including lawful omissions) is done with the purpose to cause death, it is culpable homicide amounting to murder. It is the most basic as well as the most serious kind of murder. This clause’s definition is straightforward and free of nuance. It is the action of a person with the clear intention of killing a person. Therefore, the intention is what intention does.
While deciding the case of Gudar Dusadh v. State of Bihar (1972), the Supreme Court of India had observed that it’s worth noting that Section 300’s first clause, ‘act done with the goal of causing death,’ is similar to Section 299’s first clause, which is ‘performing an act with the intention of causing death.’ As a result, an act that falls under Clause (1) of Section 300 will also fall under Clause (1) of Section 299, and it will constitute culpable homicide amounting to murder in both cases.
In the case of Rajwant Singh v. State of Kerala (1966), the Supreme Court of India had observed that the second clause of Section 300 will apply if there is first a purpose to inflict bodily damage and then a ‘subjective knowledge’ that death is a foreseeable result of the intentional injury.
In the case of BN Srikantiah v. State of Mysore (1958), the deceased had 24 injuries, 21 of which were incised. His hand, neck, shoulders, and forearms were all covered with them. Because the majority of the injuries were in vital organs of his body and the weapons used were sharp, the Apex Court determined that the intent to cause bodily harm had been shown, bringing the case under Section 300.
Section 300 Clause (2), considers two degrees of intent:
1. The intention to inflict physical damage.
2. The realization that severe bodily harm will almost certainly result in death.
However, in terms of Clause 3, it is sufficient that there is an intention to inflict the bodily damage that occurred. In the Virsa Singh case (1958), the Supreme Court while postulating the ingredients of Clause (3) of Section 300, stated that ‘it must be proven that there was a desire to inflict that specific bodily damage, that was to say, that it was not incidental or inadvertent, or that some other form of injury was intended, among other things.’
Many minor or unimportant issues, such as the picking of fruit, wandering livestock, children’s quarrels, the uttering of a nasty phrase, or even an undesirable gaze, can escalate to altercations and group conflicts that result in fatalities. In such instances, common reasons such as vengeance, avarice, jealousy, or mistrust may be completely absent. It’s possible that there isn’t any intention. It’s possible that there was no forethought. In reality, there may be no illegality at all. On the other hand, there may be situations of murder when the accused tries to evade the death penalty by claiming that there was no intent to kill. As a result, it is the responsibility of the courts to ensure that instances of murder punished under Section 302 are not changed into offences punishable under Section 304 Part I or II, or that cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder are considered as murder punishable under Section 302.
Pulicherla Nagaraju v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2006)
The Supreme Court of India while deciding the case of Pulicherla Nagaraju v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2006) outlined the factors that courts should consider when deciding whether an act is punishable as murder, culpable homicide, or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and stated that the Court should proceed with caution when deciding whether the case falls under Section 302 or 304 Part I or 304 Part II. The factors have been provided hereunder:
- The type of weapon used;
- If the accused carried the weapon or picked it up on the scene;
- Whether the blow was directed at a crucial portion of the body;
- The amount of force used to cause harm;
- If the conduct was committed in the context of a sudden disagreement, a sudden brawl, or a free-for-all battle;
- Whether the occurrence happened by chance or was planned;
- Whether there was any preexisting animosity or whether the dead was a stranger;
- Whether there was any grave and unexpected provocation, and if so, what caused it; if it was committed in a fit of rage;
- Whether the person who inflicted the harm behaved with excessive advantage or in a cruel and unusual manner;
- Whether the accused delivered a single or several strikes.
Of course, the preceding list of conditions is not complete, and there may be other particular circumstances in individual situations that provide light on the question of purpose.
Chenda @ Chanda Ram v. State of Chhattisgarh (2013)
In the case of Chenda @ Chanda Ram v. State of Chhattisgarh (2013), the Supreme Court of India examined the nature of the offence of culpable homicide for which the Appellant had been convicted by the Trial Court under Section 302 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Apex Court had viewed that the crucial aspect to be analyzed in this case was whether the conduct of the Appellant was intentional and with the knowledge or with knowledge only. Taking into account that there existed no concrete evidence which could show that the Appellant was taking any undue advantage of the situation or that he behaved in a cruel or unusual manner, the Court held that the present case fell under Exception 4 to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Further, there was no evidence of motive or previous enmity as the incident had taken place on the spur of the moment. There was also the absence of evidence regarding the intention behind the fatal consequence of the Appellant’s act. Therefore, the Court had concluded that the act fell under the second part of Section 304 of the Indian penal Code, 1860.
Paul v. State of Kerala (2020)
The Supreme Court of India while deciding on the case of Paul v. State of Kerala (2020), taking into account the fate of an act that becomes an offence if it is done with a specific intention by a person who is under the state of intoxication. The Court in this regard had viewed that Section 86 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not attribute intention as such to an intoxicated man committing an act which amounts to an offence when the act is done by a person harbouring a particular intention. Therefore, in terms of knowledge, the Court decided to attribute the drunk individual the same level of understanding as if he were completely sober. But, in terms of intent or intention, the Court observed that it must infer it from the surrounding general circumstances of the case, taking into account the degree of drunkenness.
If the accused can show that he qualifies for one of the exceptions under Section 300, their case will be heard under Part-I or Part-II of Section 304 of the IPC, depending on whether the act that resulted in the culpable homicide was done with the intent to cause death or with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death. Cases of culpable homicide that do not fall into one of the four categories under Section 300 would still be considered culpable homicide and would be prosecuted under Section 304 of the IPC. If the case comes under one of Section 300’s four limbs, there will be no reason to enable Section 304 to be put to use. If the act which caused the death and which is culpable homicide is done with the intention of causing death, then it would be murder. This is however subject to the act not being committed in circumstances attracting any of the five exceptions. The Apex Court in this present case held that the Appellant’s contention that his act would be culpable homicide not amounting to murder and has reliance placed on the words ‘done with the intention of causing death’ in Section 304 Part-I is wholly meritless. Positioning that the Appellant’s act attracts none of the exceptions under Section 300, the top court held that the act amounts to murder within the meaning of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Mohd. Rafiq @ Kallu v. the State of Madhya Pradesh (2021)
As both culpable homicide and murder entail death, it might be difficult to discern between the two. In both offences, however, there is a subtle distinction between intention and knowledge. This distinction is due to the severity of the act committed. The degree of purpose and awareness varies greatly between the two offences, viewed by a Bench of Justices KM Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat of the Supreme Court of India in the recent case of Mohd. Rafiq @ Kallu v. the State of Madhya Pradesh (2021). The use of the phrase “likely” in multiple places in relation to culpable murder, according to the Court, emphasizes the element of doubt that the accused’s act may or may not have killed the individual. Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines murder, does not utilize the term “likely,” indicating that there is no room for doubt on the part of the accused.
Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 punishes culpable homicide that does not amount to murder. In the circumstances of the present case, the Apex court observed that the Appellants should be held guilty of the offence punishable under Section 304 IPC’s first part since he intended to do such bodily harm to the deceased that it was likely to result in his death, which it did. In light of the facts, the prior courts’ convictions were changed to one under Section 304 Part I of the IPC. As a result, instead of a life sentence, the appellant was sentenced to ten years of rigorous imprisonment by the Supreme Court of India.
Throughout the article, we have witnessed various ways in which the term ‘intention’ has been used by the courts to understand whether an act would amount to culpable homicide or murder. Although confusing, there exists a thin line between the use of the term ‘intention’ in dealing with offences falling under Section 299 of the Code and while handling cases of murder under Section 300. The facts of the case along with the determining criteria of the courts play an important character in relating to such distinctions.
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