A study on Homicide with special reference to Manslaughter
Homicide is the killing of one person by the other. It is an act or omission of a person which may cause the death of another person. It may be a criminal as well as a non-criminal act. This means that homicide could even take place by accident, or it might take place to prevent a more serious offense. Punishments for criminal homicides would depend upon the intention of the person while committing the offense and the results which have occurred, various other factors would also be taken into consideration. Thus, in this paper, I would focus more widely on manslaughter, which is the unintentional killing of a person, and would elaborate on various case laws and the punishments given by courts to such people.
Homicide may include both legal and illegal killings. The illegal or intentional killing of a person is known as murder and is charged under section 300 of the Indian Penal Code. However, manslaughter refers to the legal or unintentional killing of a person. Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code gives one such reference to cases that are caused due to negligence or the reckless conduct of a person. These won’t be punished in the same way, as murder is punished.
Manslaughter can be classified into 2, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when either one person is provoked due to some external force and acts based on that. In voluntary manslaughter, the result is the killing of a person. Fights between two people could be treated as voluntary manslaughter, where the parties may act adversely in the spur of the moment and later realize their actions. Whereas involuntary manslaughter occurs due to the negligence or reckless behavior of a person, where he/she did not have any intention to kill a person. Road accidents could be treated as a case of involuntary manslaughter.
Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code gives 3 major ingredients for an act of homicide that would not amount to murder:
1. The person had the intention to cause the death of another person.
2. The intention to cause such bodily injury is likely to cause the death of the person.
3. With the knowledge that such an act or omission would lead to death.
Section 304 of the IPC elaborates on the punishments which would be awarded to the parties guilty of such offenses.
The difference between manslaughter and murder or culpable offenses leading to murder and culpable offenses not resulting in murder is very thin. These concepts are often confused with each other and determining the right section while filing a case and arguing in courts is necessary, to determine the exact punishment. However, section 300 which is the provision for offenses that would be treated as murder, has some exceptions, and killing a person in those circumstances would lead to a lesser punishment as compared to the punishment received for murder. These exceptions are
1. Grave and sudden provocation.
2. Private defense.
3. Person on duty, fulfilling his legal obligation.
4. Fit of rage.
5. Consented towards the act, or being below the age of 18 years, thus being incapable to give consent to an act.
Thus, with these small and negligible differences, it is upon the judges and lawyers to differentiate between the acts and decide if they would fall under section 299 of culpable homicide or under section 300 of murder. As the punishments for both the sections are different, it should be ensured that justice is provided to the parties correctly and that no one suffers due to any mistake caused. Even in the case of these exceptions, if the people claiming defense under these exceptions are found to have exceeded their jurisdiction or exceeded the right of defense given to them, then those people would again fall under the gambit of murder and not under culpable offenses.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the basic difference between culpable homicide and murder. Due to the thin line between them, it is an easily confused concept and thus through this paper I would try to clarify this topic and I would use various landmark judgments by the courts to aid me in this process. Culpable offenses are treated with a lesser liability as compared to murder, thus making a clear differentiation between them is necessary.
1. What is the difference between culpable offenses and murder?
2. What are the factors that would help in determining manslaughter?
Research Design and Methodology:
The methodology used in this paper is preliminary exploration. The research questions are addressed through a relevant compilation of qualitative data. This type of research is done to clarify the exact nature of the problem to be solved. It gives an elaborate explanation of a concept for better clarification and understanding. I would be using secondary sources to aid me with this research. The secondary sources used would include books, articles, and case laws.
The main concept of differentiation is the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘intention’. These may sound similar but their meaning differentiates them from one another. Knowledge could just be a bare understanding of a circumstance and situation by the human mind, but the intention is a conscious state of mind, which is aroused by the various activities and directed towards a particular purpose with the desired result in mind. Section 304 of IPC also differentiates punishment based on these two words. According to the first circumstance
An act done to cause death or bodily injury would be punished with life imprisonment or imprisonment up to 10 years and/or a fine.
And according to the second circumstance
An act that is done with the knowledge of causing death but without an intention of the same would be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to 10 years and/or a fine.
Due to such minor distinctions, it is difficult to establish fixed criteria to determine the punishment for these crimes, thus it is upon the judiciary to interpret each case based on the facts and circumstances and then apply the relevant provisions for deciding the punishment.
All murders are culpable offenses but not all culpable offenses are murders. The intention is one of the major factors in determining the difference. If the intention was to only cause bodily injury, then it won’t fall under murder. However according to the provision of IPC in both the sections the intention is to cause the death of the other party, so the point of differentiation would be the degree of this intention. If death is caused due to an accident or injury which might have come due to sudden provocation or various other factors then it would be treated as a culpable offense. Whereas if the death occurs in a well-planned way or a cold-blooded form, then in such cases it would amount to murder as here there is a clear planning and criminal intention which can be linked to the accused.
One of the first cases which clarified the difference between culpable offense and murder is the case between Reg and Govinda. According to this, the Bombay High Court elaborated that, in the case of a culpable offense, an injury is inflicted upon the person to likely cause the death of the person, whereas it will be murder if causing such injury is sufficient to cause the death of a person in the normal course of nature. The likely result and the most probable result would be the difference between both the concept according to this case.
In this case between the State of AP vs R Punnayya, the court held that every murder is a culpable offense but the same vice versa doesn’t hold good. The court also classified culpable offenses into 3 different degrees. The first degree would be the offense defined under section 300 of IPC, the second degree of culpable offense would be the one described in part 1 of section 304 and the third degree of this offense is the lowest form of offense which is described under part 2 of section 304.
This is a case between the appellant killed his younger brother in a fit of rage during a fight between them. The case fell within exception 4 of section 300 thus making it a culpable offense punishable under section 299. In a fit of rage, the accused stabbed the deceased with a spear in the chest and abdomen which became the cause of his death. The accused was not aware of the immediate effect of the action and thus it falls under a situation likely to cause death. The punishment for this case was decided based on part 1 of section 304. The accused was given a punishment of life imprisonment.
This was one of the controversial and long-running cases. The case started in the year 2007 and the judgment was passed in 2020. The question as to which section should the accused be punished was discussed and debated a lot by the different courts and finally, the Supreme Court said that this particular act would fall under section 299 of IPC. In this case between Bhagwan Singh vs the State of Uttarakhand, the accused is guilty of celebratory firing. During the procession of marriage, the accused fired gunshots facing the ceiling however the shots backfired and injured 5 people and also killed 2 of them. The courts concluded that the accused was carrying a loaded gun in a crowded event and did not ensure proper precautions of using it in such a surrounding. Carrying a gun indicates the risk of injuring someone, thus as the accused was aware of this basic fact, he would be guilty of culpable offense not causing murder and would be punished under section 304.
The courts have also highlighted that to establish a case of an offense under section 299 or section 300 it is necessary to fulfill all the necessary ingredients and prove the claims made without any scope of doubt. In this case between Joginder Singh the vs the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused because they were not able to establish without considerable doubt that the accused were the reason for the death of the deceased. The deceased died due to jumping into the well and inflicting injuries on the head, while the accused were chasing him down. They were however a few feet behind him thus the court held the accused not guilty.
In the case of Laxman vs the State of Maharashtra, the accused was guilty of murder. He had stabbed the victim and caused him 34 injuries. The court held that in this case, it is clear that the motive of the accused was to kill the deceased and not just injure him. It is cold-blooded murder and thus the accused would be charged according to section 300 of IPC for murder.
In the case between Kesar Singh vs the State of Haryana, the courts held that this case would come under section 299 of culpable homicide as this fall within exception 4 of section 300. In this case, the accused gave a harsh blow on the head of the deceased in a fit of rage, leading to his death. The court also highlighted the difference between the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘intention’ in this case and used that distinction to conclude.
Exception 2 of section 300, the right to self-defense was elaborated in this case. In this case between Bhanwar Singh vs the State of MP, the courts held that the burden of proving and claiming the right of self-defense is upon the accused. The courts held that the right to self-defense must be proved without doubt, and it should also be proved that this right extended to taking the life of the other party. The right to take the life of the other party in self-defense can only be claimed in exceptional situations where there is no other alternative left or to prevent self-injury the life of the other person must be taken. The court would have the option to reject the plea of self-defense if they feel that the harm which the person would receive is comparatively less than the right of private defense which would cause the death of a person.
This case was filed against a public servant for harming an innocent bystander and leading to his death. The police constable was on a railway platform and was trying to catch a thief who was trying to run away. In this process when the police constable fired a shot, it hit another person, who died of the shot. The court however held that this police constable would be eligible to claim an exception under section 300 as he was just performing his lawful duty and the shot which hit the other person was a total accident and there was no intention to cause harm to any innocent person.
Thus, through these various cases and judgments given by different courts, it is clear that manslaughter is a very different concept from murder. The distinction according to the section might be very thin but while interpreting them, it is very vast and this distinction must be understood clearly to ensure proper justice. The courts have to look into every case separately to decide on the distinction. There is no clear point as such which could be used to differentiate both these sections. Thus, a judge plays a very important role in deciding these cases. And these cases of homicide are very sensitive and any mistake committed could lead to a drastic situation. Thus, a judge should ensure that they leave no stone unturned and understand the facts and circumstances of every case perfectly to give a justifiable and appropriate judgment. The judges have to try to read into the minds of the accused and analyze, if the accused would have intended to commit the crime or not, they have to try and apply certain logic to understand the accused better.
The lawyers would also play a huge role as they would have to represent their side of clients properly. They have to present good and precise arguments which support their side and establish the burden on the other side. Their jobs must be to aid their clients properly and convince the judge that their side is right and the other side is guilty of the offense. The laws and codes should also be read and understood properly. The minute distinction drawn by the laws should be taken into consideration before giving a judgment and the judgment must be according to the rules laid down in the codes and statutes.
Journals and Articles:
What’s the difference between homicide, murder, and manslaughter?
What is the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?
Analysis of section 299 of IPC
Kesar Singh vs the State of Haryana, (2008) 15 SCC 753
Reg vs Govinda, (1877) ILR 1 Bom 342
State of Andhra Pradesh vs Rayavarapu Punnayya & Another, 1977 AIR 45
Shanmugam Kulandaivelu vs State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 2003 SC 209
Bhagwan Singh vs The State of Uttarakhand, 18 March 2020
Joginder Singh vs State of Punjab, AIR 1979 SC 1876.
Laxman and Ors vs The State of Maharashtra, AIR 1974 SC 1803
Bhanwar Singh & Ors vs State of Madhya Pradesh, 16 May 2008
Dakhi Singh vs The State, AIR 1955 All 379
Author: Ishika Jain,
CMR school of legal studies - LLB 2nd year