Culpable homicide means death through human agency punishable at law. All murder is culpable homicide but all culpable homicide is not murder. There are two branches of culpable homicide; (i) culpable homicide amounting to murder known as simply ‘murder’ [Sections 300, clauses (1), (2), (3) and (4)]; and (ii) culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 299 and exceptions to Section 300).
The causing of death is common to both the branches, and there is necessarily a criminal intention or knowledge in both. The difference does not lie in the quantity; it lies in the quantity of degree of criminality disclosed by the act.
In murder there is greater intention or knowledge than in culpable homicide. Before dealing with these two branches, let us see how the law defines culpable homicide the generic class itself of which these two are species.
Whoever causes death by doing an act (i) with the intention of causing death, or (ii) 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 (Section 229). Culpable homicide presupposes an intention, or knowledge of likelihood, of causing death. In the absence of such intention or knowledge even if the death be caused, the offence may be that of hurt or grivous hurt, e.g.,death caused by kicking a person suffering from a diseased spleen.
A, by shooting at a fowl with intent to kill and steal it, kills B; who is behind a bush, such presence of B being not known to A. Here, although A was doing an unlawful act, he was not guilty of culpable homicide, as he did not intend to kill B, or cause death by doing an act that he knew was likely to cause death.
Now if A shoots at the bird at the instance of C who knows that B is behind the bush and who intends to cause B’s death or knows that B’s death is thereby likely, while A is innocent, C is guilty of culpable homicide.
A lays sticks and turf over a pit, with the intention 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.
Death may be caused in a variety of ways mediate as well as immediate. It may be caused by causing injury to a person labouring under a disease or infirmity thereby accelerating the death of the person. (Explanation I Section 299).
It may take time for the injury caused to end in death and it may be possible to prevent such death by resort to proper remedies or skilful treatment of the injury; the responsibility of the person who has caused such injury shall not, however, abate because such treatment was not resorted to and he shall still be deemed to have caused such death (Explanation II) even though death takes place long after the injury.
There is no such thing as contributory negligence and it is culpable homicide. Death may result from the act itself or from the natural consequences of the act but it should not be too remote. These explanations do not explain the offence of culpable homicide, they explain what it meant by ‘causing death’ which is one of the ingredients of the offence of culpable homicide.
Elements of culpable homicide:
The essential element in culpable homicide is the intention of causing death or of such bodily injury as is likely to cause death or knowledge that the act is likely to cause death. The elements necessary to constitute the offence of culpable homicide are—
(i) The causing of death,
(ii) The doing of an act, and
(iii) The act must have been done—
(a) With the intention to cause death;
(b) With the intention to cause bodily injury as is likely to cause death;
(c) With the knowledge that act is likely as such which is enough to cause death.