Difference between murder and culpable homicide by VIVEK JAMWAL

Difference between murder and culpable homicide


The term “Murder” traces its origin form the Germanic word “morth” which means secret killing. Murder means when one person is killed by another person or a group of persons who have a pre-determined intention to end life of the former. An offence will not amount to ‘Murder’ unless it includes an offence which falls under the definition of culpable homicide as per the definition of ‘Murder’ under IPC. All murders are culpable homicide but all homicides are not murders. Section 299 and Section 300 of Indian Penal Code deal with murder.


The word homicide is supposedly derived from Latin where “homo” means man and “cida” means killing. Thus, homicide means the killing of a man by a man. Homicide can be lawful or unlawful. Culpable homicide is punishable by law and is further divided into two categories:

• Culpable homicide amounting to murder

• Culpable homicide not amounting to murder


Section 300 of the IPC reads as follows: 300. Murder. —Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or—

(Secondly) —If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or—

(Thirdly) —If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or—

(Fourthly) —If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

If we analyse the definition under Section 300 of the IPC, culpable homicide is considered as murder if:

• The act is committed with an intention to cause death.

• The act is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury for which the offender has knowledge that it would result in death.

• The person has the knowledge that his act is dangerous and would cause death or bodily injury but still commits the act, this would amount to murder.


• Causing death: There should be an intention of causing death

• Doing an act: There should be an intention to cause such bodily injury that is likely to cause death or

• The act must be done with the knowledge that the act is likely to cause the death of another.


• A shoots B with an intention of killing him. As a result, B dies, murder is committed by A.

• D intentionally gives a sword-cut to C that is sufficient to cause death of anyone in the ordinary course of nature. As a consequence, C dies. Here, D is guilty of murder though he did not intend to cause C’s death.


Section 299 of IPC reads as follows:

299. Culpable homicide — Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

In the case of Reg. v. Govinda ( 1877) ILR 1 Bom 342), the accused had knocked down his wife, kept a knee on her chest and gave two to three violent blows with the closed fist on her face. This act produced extraversion of blood on her brain and afterwards, the wife died due to this. The act was not committed with the intention of causing death and the bodily injury was not sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The accused was liable to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The difference between murder and culpable homicide is intention. If the intention is present the crime is said to be committed under Section 300 of IPC. If the intention is absent, then the crime is dealt under section 304 of IPC.


Cause of confusion: The thin line is the intention behind the act. All murders are culpable homicide but the vice-versa is not true. Ever since the IPC was enacted, this distinction as to which case will fall under which category is a perennial question with which courts are often confronted. On a plain reading of the relevant provisions of the Code, it appears that the given cases can be conveniently classified into two categories but when it comes to actual application, the courts are often confronted with this dilemma. This confusion often emerges when it is difficult to interpret from the evidence whether the intention was to cause merely bodily injury which would not make out an offence of murder or there was a clear intention to kill the victim making out a clear case of an offence of murder. The most confusing aspect is ‘intention’ as in both the provisions the intention is to cause death. Hence, you have to consider the degree of intention of offenders. If the person is killed in cold-blood or with planning then it is murder because the intention to kill is in high degree and not out of sudden rage or provocation. On other hand, if the victim is killed without pre-planning, in sudden fight or in sudden anger because of somebody’s provocation or instigation, then such a death is called culpable homicide. Hence, whether the act done is culpable homicide or murder is a question of fact.

Distinguishing between the two: The distinction between the two was aptly set forth by Sarkaria J., in State of A.P. v. R. Punnayya,((1976) 4 SCC 382) “In the scheme of the Penal Code, ‘culpable homicide’ is genus and ‘murder’ its specie. All ‘murder’ is ‘culpable homicide’ but not vice versa. Speaking generally ‘culpable homicide’ sans ‘special characteristics of murder’ is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. For the purpose of fixing punishment, proportionate to the gravity of this generic offence, the IPC practically recognises three degrees of culpable homicide. The first is what may be called, culpable homicide of first degree, this is the gravest form of culpable homicide which is defined in section 300 as ‘murder’. The second may be termed as ‘culpable homicide of the second degree’. This is punishable under the 1st part of Section 304. Then, there is ‘culpable homicide of the third degree’. This is the lowest type of culpable homicide and the punishment provided for it is also the lowest among the punishments provided for the three grades, punishable under Part II of Section 304.”



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