What Is The Difference Between Murder And Culpable Homicide In India?

What are the offences of culpable homicide and murder?

Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter, “IPC”) and Section 300 of the same deal with the offences of culpable homicide and murder, respectively. For fault under Section 299, the death must be caused by –

  1. By performing an act with the intention of causing death;
  2. By performing an act with the intention of causing bodily injury likely to result in death;
  3. Knowledge that the act will result in death.[1]

Understanding the difference between knowledge and intention is crucial in understanding culpable homicide. Knowledge refers to a state where an individual is consciously aware of certain facts and circumstances but the individual may not take any action towards commission as it is a “bare state” of mind. On the other hand, intention can be termed as far more malicious where an act is performed deliberately to secure an end which has been conceived by the mind of the individual.[2] To determine whether the intention is present or not, the facts of the case have to be examined.[3]

For fault under Section 300, the above must be fulfilled and additionally, two further clauses under the Section prescribe that murder can also be caused if the intentional bodily injury would have caused death in ordinary course of nature and that the act was so “imminently dangerous” that it was libel to cause bodily injury resulting in death or death itself, in all probability. Moreover, it must not fall under the five exceptions as mentioned in the section to be constituted as murder. These exceptions are –

  1. Sudden and grave provocation;
  2. Right of private defence or self defence;
  3. Statutory authority where the death is caused by a public servant on duty;
  4. Death caused in a sudden fight; and
  5. Death suffered by a person consenting to the same.[4]

Section 300 is vague regarding the definition of murder and borders on being very similar to culpable homicide making it extremely tough to distinguish between the two. In Rampal Singh v. State of U.P., it was held that culpable homicide is the genus, while murder is the species. This means that while all murders may be classified as culpable homicide, all culpable homicides cannot amount to murder due to varying degrees of intention and knowledge.[5]


Section 304 prescribes punishment for culpable homicide in two ways –

1. If culpable homicide is a result of an intention to cause death or an intention to cause such bodily injury which will likely result in death then punishment can either be sentence of life imprisonment or a sentence which may be up to 10 years long and a fine; or

2. If the culpable homicide is committed with the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death but without the intention of causing such death or bodily injury resulting in death then the punishment can extend to a jail term of up to 10 years and/or a fine.[6]

There is, however, considerable discretion given to the judges in deciding a particular punishment depending on the facts and circumstances of each case and therefore, a considerable degree of subjectivity is involved.[7]

Section 302 enlists the punishment for murder. The punishment has to be strictly adhered to and no case to case basis exceptions are provided. They can be categorized into death sentence and imprisonment for life with a fine.

[8] The death sentence is a controversial matter in India but was given constitutional legitimacy in Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P., wherein, it was held that complete discretion would be provided to judges while imposing death penalty when the punishment has not been prescribed under a statute.

[9] In later judicial pronouncements, it was held that the death penalty should only be awarded for security of state and maintenance of public order and must focus on the criminal, not the crime.[10] It is only used in the “rarest of rare cases.”[11]

Difference Between Murder And Culpable Homicide

There is considerable debate regarding the distinction between culpable homicide not amounting to murder and murder in Indian polity due to a thin line of separation between the two. Understanding the difference is crucial for greater clarity on the two offences.

A perusal of the provisions teaches us that the physical element of culpable homicide and murder are the same which is the resultant death of an individual by action the person accused of the crime.[12] The essential distinction between the two lies in its “fault elements” which can be categorized as intention to cause death and knowledge that the act would cause death.[13]

The intention and knowledge required for murder is understood to be of a much higher degree than what is required for culpable homicide as understood by the vast body of case law. While the word “likely” in Section 299 while defining culpable homicide is used, it denotes a probability and not a possibility of the death occurring. This “probability” is much higher in cases of murder occurring. This gives culpable homicide a much wider context than murder, the latter being limited to heinous crimes done with cold-blooded intention to cause the death of an individual.

There are many instances where a considerable degree of intention is missing in culpable homicide. For example, is person A in a fit of rage attacks person B, knowing that the bodily injury was likely to cause death, it would still not qualify as murder because of the lack of pre-meditation and certainty of death. It would have been passed as culpable homicide not amounting to murder due to sudden or grave provocation and punishment under Section 204 would have been leveled. On the other hand, if person A had planned to assassinate person B for weeks on end and then decided to stab B, it would amount to murder. There was a clear and conscious intention to kill and knowledge that the attack would certainly lead to death under all ordinary circumstances. The certainty of death remains tremendously higher in cases of murder.

[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 299.

[2] Kesar Singh v. State of Haryana, (2008) 15 SCC 753.

[3] Supra note 1, § 304(a).

[4] Supra note 1, § 300.

[5] (2012) 8 SCC 289.

[6] Supra note 1, § 304.

[7] Rampal Singh v. State of U.P., (2012) 8 SCC 289.

[8] Supra note 1, § 302.

[9] (1973) 1 SCC 20.

[10] Rajendra Prasad v. State of U.P., (1979) 3 SCR 646.

[11] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1980 SC 898.

[12] Sᴛᴀɴʟᴇʏ Mᴇɴɢ Hᴇᴏɴɢ Yᴇᴏ, Fᴀᴜʟᴛ ɪɴ Hᴏᴍɪᴄɪᴅᴇ: Tᴏᴡᴀʀᴅs ᴀ Sᴄʜᴇᴍᴀᴛɪᴄ Aᴘᴘʀᴏᴀᴄʜ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ Fᴀᴜʟᴛ Eʟᴇᴍᴇɴᴛs ғᴏʀ Mᴜʀᴅᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ Iɴᴠᴏʟᴜɴᴛᴀʀʏ Mᴀɴsʟᴀᴜɢʜᴛᴇʀ ɪɴ Eɴɢʟᴀɴᴅ, Aᴜsᴛʀᴀʟɪᴀ ᴀɴᴅ Iɴᴅɪᴀ 101-102 (1997), available at https://books.google.co.in/books?id=IdWCA4JxNEC&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&dq=difference+between+murder+and+culpable+homicide+google+scholar&source=bl&ots=s919qgjk9M&sig=ACfU3U3lm1wb72Ly3gwQYXAhqmT3ugKTqw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwit9uem59npAhVnyjgGHZnpDyQQ6AEwEXoECAkQAQ#v=twopage&q=difference%20between%20murder%20and%20culpable%20homicide%20google%20scholar&f=false (Last visited on May 30, 2020).

[13] Id.

This Article is Authored by Ishita Mundhra, 1st Year B.A. LL.B (Hons) Student at WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. 

Also Read – Distinction between Kidnapping and Abduction

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