HomeHomicide and Killing

Introduction

The Britannica academic describes “Homicide” as a broad term which refers to the act of one human killing another, where such an act may be justifiable or excusable in law, making it non-criminal or non-excusable and unjustifiable making it criminal in nature. The latin roots of the word also evidence this definition, “homi”, i.e. human and “cido” which means injury. A homicide becomes a murder when the intention to kill is implicit. Murder is a specific type of homicide. A homicide may be non-criminal when it is justifiable in law, such as for the prevention of another dangerous crime and defending oneself from an assailant or excusable in law when done without an explicit intention or knowledge that the act might lead to someone’s death, such as an accident or insanity.

Culpable Homicide

Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code defines 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.”

The actus reus involved in culpable homicide is the death of a person, by the act of another. Further, even negative acts such as omissions and spoken words are held to lead to charges of culpable homicide and murder. In the case of R v Gibbins and Proctor, it was held that wherever an omission is practised with the intention and knowledge that such an omission could likely lead to the death of another person, it was held to be tantamount to an act, amounting to murder.

The mens rea for a culpable homicide is the intention to either (a) cause death; or (b) such a bodily injury that would likely lead to death. Or the (c) the knowledge of the likeliness of death. These three situations differ in degree of culpability, where (a) has the highest degree, and (c) has the lowest. This hierarchy in culpability is also reflected in the punishment prescribed for culpable homicide, under section 304 of IPC.

Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code states the punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The person that falls under the first category is punished with imprisonment for life. The person that falls under the second category is punished with 10 years of imprisonment and fine and the person that falls in the last category may be imprisoned for 10 years or fined, or both, depending on the discretion of the judge.

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