The most popular terms in Criminal Law, one can say are intent
Both the terms postulate the existence of a positive mental
attitude which is of different degrees. The mental element in culpable homicide
i.e. mental attitude towards the consequences of conduct is one of intention and
knowledge. If that is caused in any of the three circumstances mentioned in
Section 299 IPC, the offence of culpable homicide is said to have
The term mens rea
is being used to connote fault elements
such as Intention or recklessness as to specific consequence, and knowledge of,
or recklessness as to, a specified circumstance. There are different shades of
According to Prof. B.B. Pande, there are around 26 shades such
as four clauses of section 300, five exceptions of section 300, two clauses of
section 299, two clauses of rashness, and like that. However, broadly there are
two that are knowledge
which will be discussed in this
article. With this in mind, the author will try to explain the degrees of
culpability required to be proved for the offence of Murder and Culpable
Knowledge in Criminal Liability
Knowledge as a manifestation of ‘mens rea’ in criminal liability can be two
types. One, knowledge as to circumstance and another as to consequence. Both
will be discussed one by one in succeeding paragraphs.
Knowledge as to circumstanceKnowledge as to circumstance can be clause (c) of Sec. 299, and secondly and
thirdly of section 300. In common law, there are three degrees of knowledge
that are knowledge of First degree where actual knowledge can be gathered out of
true belief i.e. fact and circumstance as it is so. In the knowledge of second
degree, there is willful blindness by the accused. In other words, state of mind
in accused which deliberately refrains from making inquiry or wilfully shuts
eyes to the obvious which a reasonable man would have enquired. The knowledge
of third-degree is basically constructive knowledge that is where the accused
merely neglects to make an inquiry. If the offender has a thought that there is
a possibility and it is more than fanciful, and then he neglects to go for
inquiry, then it is constructive knowledge that comes under 3rd degree.
In sum, the first and second clause (Culpable homicide is an act of causing
death (a) With the intention of causing death (b) With the intention of causing
such bodily injury as is likely to cause death) of section 299 refers to
intention apart from knowledge and the third clause (With the knowledge that
such act is likely to cause death) refers to knowledge alone without intention.
Knowledge about consequenceKnowledge about consequences can be divided into two parts. First, actual
knowledge as is given in clause 2 of section 300. Second, imputed or inferred
knowledge i.e. inference of knowledge drawn from result or consequence. The
inferred knowledge can be checked by making two enquires. Firstly, whether the
facts then present in the mind of the accused was sufficient to have directed
his mind. This will lead to infer that his act was likely to cause death.
Secondly, not only the knowledge which is present in the mind of the accused but
judging from the effects, ought to have been present in the accused are also
In emperor v Fox
(1880), the accused dissatisfied with the work of punkha
koolie in managing punkha, went up to him and struck him blows. The Koolie was
suffering from an enlarged spleen and died on the spot. The accused
was held liable only for simple hurt and not culpable homicide. Whereas, in Ganesh
Dooley's case, a snake charmer was exhibiting a poisonous snake whose fangs
he knew had not been extracted and to show his skill but with no intention to
kill, placed the snake on the head of one spectator. The spectator was bitten by
the snake and died in consequence. The snake charmer was held guilty of culpable
homicide as he had knowledge about the consequence of his act.
In different judgments, it has been repeatedly held that murder is the species
and culpable homicide is the genus i.e. all murders are culpable homicide but
vice versa is not true. Section 300 which provides circumstances when culpable
homicide will be murder also laid down exceptions where culpable homicide does
not amount to murder and can be punished under section 304. If there is intent
and knowledge then it would come under section 304 part I. however if there is
only knowledge and no intention to cause bodily injury and murder, then it is a
case of section 304 part II.
In Vipin sharma v
(2018), Court relied on Radhey Shyam case where due to an outbreak
of sudden fight, it was held under exception 4 of section 300. However, in this
case, there was premeditation to cause bodily injury which was sufficient in the
ordinary course to cause death and that is why it was held under clause 3 of
Degree of Culpability
In Ruli Ram v State of Haryana (2002)
, as first observed in State of A.P. v.
R. Punnayya, the court reiterated that there are three degrees of
culpable homicide for the purpose of facing punishment, proportionate to the
gravity of the generic offence. These are, culpable homicide of 1st degree, e.g.
murder. Then comes, culpable homicide of the second degree, e.g. section
304 part 1 and then there is the culpable homicide of the third degree which is
the lowest type, e.g. Section 304 part II.
In R v Govinda
(1877), the accused, a young man of 18 years old, knocked
down his wife (15year old), kept a knee on her chest, and gave two to three
violent blows on her face. This act produced extraversion of blood on her brain
and afterward, 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 held liable for culpable
homicide not amounting to murder. Justice Melvin gave the distinction between
murder and culpable homicide as when the Death is caused intentionally, for
instance, clause (a) to section 299 and clause (1) to section 300 show that
whenever there is an intention to cause death, it amounts to murder unless falls
within any of the exceptions of section 300.
Clause (b) of section 299 corresponds with section 300 (2) and (3). The main
distinction between them lies in the knowledge part of the accused that the
victim is likely to die. The offense is murder if the accused knows that the
particular person injured is likely either due to ill health or special
circumstances is going to die by injury which would not ordinarily be sufficient
to cause death. For example- illustration (b) of section 300, where A, knowing
that Z is laboring under such a disease that a blow is likely to cause his
death, strikes him with the intention of causing bodily injury. Z dies in
consequence of the blow.
A is guilty of murder, although the blow might not have
been sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause the death of a person
in a sound state of health. But if A, not knowing that Z is laboring under any
disease, gives him such a blow as would not in the ordinary course of nature
kill a person in a sound state of health, here A, although he may intend to
cause bodily injury, is not guilty of murder, if he did not intend to cause
death, or such bodily injury as in the ordinary course of nature would cause
The comparison of section 299 (b) and section 300(3) would show that the offense
is culpable homicide if the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is likely to
cause death, it is murder if such injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of
nature to cause death. Section 299 (b) talks about the possibility and section
300(3) talks about the possibility or more probability. The word ‘likely’ means
probably, i.e. when the chances of happening a thing are fifty-fifty then it can
be said that the thing may ‘probably happen’; when the chances of its happening
are almost certain, it is ‘most probably to happen.
The sufficiency is the high probability of death in the ordinary course of
nature and when this exists and the death ensues and the death ensues and the
causing of such injury is intended, the offense is murder. Sometimes, the nature
of the weapon, part of the body where injury is caused, etc. helps in
determining the intentional injury as sufficient to cause death in the ordinary
course of nature. If the intended injury is or cannot be said to be sufficient
in the ordinary course to cause death, that is to say, the probability of death
is not so high the offense does not fall within the definition of murder but
within culpable homicide not amounting to murder or something of less degree.
Section 299 (c) and section 300 (4) talks about knowledge. Both the clauses
require knowledge with a very high degree of probability. For example- firing at
the target near a public road may be an act that is known to be likely to cause
death and liability would be culpable homicide not amounting to murder but
firing in a crowd of persons would be an act that is so imminently dangerous
that it amounts to murder.
The distinction between the two can be understood by cases of Emperor v.
 and Gyarsibai v State
. In the former, a woman who was running
away from her husband jumped into the well with her child because of panic/fear
that her husband is following her.
The child died in the consequence. The court
held her liable under Section 304 part II as she had a valid reason to jump and
the court saw it as knowledge likely to cause death as under Sec 299 (c).
Whereas in the latter case, the woman was held liable under section 300 (4)
holding that act of jumping into the well along with her children was so
imminently dangerous that in all probability it would cause the death of
children as she had no valid excuse for risking her children’s life and causing
The line between murder and culpable homicide is razor-thin. The courts have
tried time and time again to distinguish between the two, despite the fact that
the end result is the same, with the ‘intention’ behind the crime being the most
relevant thing to consider. One critique is that there is no definite area or
proper demarcation between murder and culpable homicide but if we follow the
judgments of different High Courts and Supreme Court over the time period, we
can see a pattern that it all depends on the degree of culpability.
of Criminal Culpability can be summarised as situations of ‘possible’ and
‘probable to happen’ lie on the lower end of the spectrum leading to culpable
homicide. Whereas, on the other end of the spectrum lie ‘most probable’ and
‘virtually certain’ situations that lead to a conviction for murder.
mostly depends on the case facts, and the wisdom of judges, and how they
perceive the facts. With the evolving laws, more jurisprudence needs to be
developed in this area as well to avoid confusion and for better delivery of
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Kritika
- Vipin Sharma & Ors. vs State (2018) Delhi High Court, CRL. A. 709/2018,
Crl.M. (Bail) Nos.1076-78/2018
- Pande, Bhuvaneshwar B., “LIMITS ON OBJECTIVE LIABILITY FOR
MURDER.” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 16, no. 3, 1974, pp.
- Culpable homicide is an act of causing death: clause ( c) With the
knowledge that such act is likely to cause death
- Culpable homicide is considered to be 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.
With the intention of causing bodily injury which is sufficient in the
ordinary course of nature to cause death.
The person has the knowledge that his act is so imminently dangerous that in
all probability, it would cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to
cause death and still commits the same.
- emperor v Fox (1880) ILR 2 All 522
- The Empress vs Gonesh Dooley And Gopi Dooley (1880) ILR 5 Cal 351
- Vipin Sharma & Ors. vs State (2018) Delhi High Court, CRL. A. 709/2018,
Crl.M. (Bail) Nos.1076-78/2018
- Radhey Shyam vs State Nct Of Delhi, CRL.A.1348/2012
- (2002) 7 SCC 691
- 1976 4 SCC 382
- 1877 ILR 1 Bom 342
- AIR 1940 All 486
- 1953 CriLJ 588
Is an LL.M. (Constitutional and Criminal Law) student at National Law University, Delhi
Authentication No: MA33993429950-12-0521