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Legal provisions regarding Culpable Homicide under section 299 of Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code provides that:

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.

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Illustrations:

(a) A lays sticks and turf over a pit, with the intention of thereby causing death, or with the knowledge that death is likely to be thereby caused, Z believing the ground to be firm, treads on it, falls in and is killed. A has committed the offence of culpable homicide.

(b) A knows Z to be behind a bush.  does not know it. A, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely to cause Z’s death, induces  to fire at the bush,  fires and kills Z. Here  may be guilty of no offence, but A has committed the offence of culpable homicide.

(c) A, by shooting at a fowl with intent to kill and steal it, kills B, who is behind a bush ; A not knowing that he was there. Here, although A was doing an unlawful act, he was not guilty of culpable homicide as he did not intend to kill  or to cause death by doing an act that he knew was likely to cause death.

Explanation 1:-

A person who causes bodily injury, to another who is labouring under a disorder, disease or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerates the death of that other, shall be deemed to have caused his death.

Explanation 2:-

Where death is caused by bodily injury, the person who causes such bodily injury shall be deemed to have caused the death, although by resorting to proper remedies and skilful treatment the death might have been prevented.

Explanation 3:-

The causing of the death of a child in the mother’s womb is not homicide. But it may amount to culpable homicide to cause the death of a living child, if any part of that child has been brought forth, though the child may not have breathed or been completely born.”

Section 299 of the Code has the following essentials:

1. Causing of death of a human being;

2. Such death must have been caused by doing an act of another person;

3. The act causing death should have been done:

i) With the intention of causing death; or

ii) With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death; or

iii) With the knowledge that the doer is likely by such act to cause death.

Causing death:

The very first test to decide whether a particular act or omission would be covered by the definition of culpable homicide is to verify whether the act done by an accused has ‘caused’ the death of another person. ‘Death’ means the death of a human being. But the word ‘death’ does not include the death of an unborn child. It is immaterial if the person whose death has been caused not the very person whom the accused intended to kill. The offence is complete as soon as any person is killed.

By doing an act:

Death may be caused in a number of ways; such as by poisoning, starving, striking, drowning or communicating some shocking news and by a hundred different ways. ‘Act’, here includes ‘illegal omission’ also.

The word ‘illegal’ is applicable to everything which is an offence or which is prohibited by law, or which furnishes ground for a civil action. Therefore, death caused by illegal omission will amount to culpable homicide.

Death caused by effect of words:

Death may also be caused by effect of words such as by making some communication to another which caused excitement which results in death although it would be difficult to prove that the person, who spoke the words, anticipated from them an effect which except under very peculiar circumstances and in very peculiar constitutions no word would produce.

Intention:

Intention is difficult to legally establish by direct evidence as it essentially is a manifestation of a person’s mind and inner feelings, which requires going into a person’s mind to determine what intention the person had. It can be gathered from the attendant circumstances of the case, and more particularly from the actions of the accused.

Intention means the expectation of the consequence in question. When a man is charged with doing an act, of which the probable consequences may be harmful, the intention is an inference of law resulting from the doing of the act. An intention also includes foresight of certainty. A consequence is deemed to be intended though it is not desired when it is foreseen as substantially certain.

Intention or the mental element in committing the crime is an essential ingredient of culpable homicide. While intention is a very important element in all crimes, it becomes crucial in the offence of culpable homicide because it is the degree of intention of the accused which determines the degree of crime. In other words, it is the mental element of the accused alone, which is material to decide whether a particular act is culpable homicide amounting to murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

As far as the offence of culpable homicide is concerned, there are three species or degrees of mens rea present:

i) An intention to cause death:

Intention of causing death is not the intention of causing the death of any particular person. Illustration (a) to Section 299 of the Code shows that a person can be guilty of culpable homicide of a person whose death he did not intend. In that illustration A had the intention of causing somebody’s death, though not of a particular person, who treads over the turf believing the ground to be firm.

ii) With the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death:

The expression ‘intention to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death’ merely means an intention to cause a particular injury, which injury is, or turns out to be, or likely to cause death. It is not the death itself which is intended, nor the effect of injury. It is not necessary that the consequences of the injury are foreseen, it would be sufficient that there is an intention to cause injury, which injury is likely to cause death.

iii) With the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death:

Knowledge means consciousness. It is awareness of act. Knowledge is a strong word and imports a certainty and not merely a probability. Here ‘knowledge’ refers to the personal knowledge of the person who does the act. The offender should reasonably expect that the consequence of his act would probably result in the death of a person, even if he did not intend to cause the death. The word ‘likely’ as used in Section 299 is to denote a lower degree of likelihood.

If a person acts negligently or without exercising due care and caution he will be presumed to have knowledge of the consequences arising from his act. For example if a person struck a man with a club, bona fide believing that the object was not a human being but something supernatural but, in hurry without taking any steps to satisfy himself that it was not a human being since he had acted with gross negligence without satisfying himself about the object which he struck, he was guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The offence of culpable homicide pre-supposes an intention, or knowledge of likelihood of causing death. In the absence of such intention or knowledge, the offence committed may be grievous hurt, or simple hurt.

The definition itself provides for three circumstances, wherein the presence or absence of certain factors in causing death is nevertheless treated as causing culpable homicide. These circumstances are dealt with in explanations 1-3.

Explanation 1:—

Provides for situation where the injured person is suffering from some disorder, disease or bodily infirmity, which quickened his death. The fact that his death was quickened or hastened by the disorder or disease he was already suffering from, will not reduce the guilt or culpability of the person causing the injury. In other words, the person who caused the injury cannot escape criminal liability of culpable homicide by stating that if the person injured did not suffer from the said disease or disorder, he would not have died.

Explanation 2:—

Provides for a situation wherein a person who has been injured could have covered and escaped death, if, he had been given prompt and proper medical treatment. In such situations too, the fact that the injured person died because he could not avail of good medical treatment, cannot be a ground for negating guilt or culpability of the person who inflicted the injury in the first place.

Explanation 3:—

Is respect of a slightly different situation. It takes into consideration death caused to a child in the mother’s womb. The law states that if the death of the child is caused when still in the mother’s womb, it is not culpable homicide. However, if any portion of the child comes out of the mother’s womb, even if it is not fully born, and if death is caused to such child, then it would amount to culpable homicide.

Section 299 defines culpable homicide in a simple way. Culpable homicide is of two kinds:

i) Culpable homicide amounting to murder; and

ii) Culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Section 299 cannot be taken to be definition of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The scheme of the Penal Code is that first the genus culpable homicide is defined and then murder which is species of culpable homicide is defined. What is left out of culpable homicide after the special characteristics of murder have been taken away from it is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. For this reason the Code does not contain any definition of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

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