Murder is the gravest form of culpable Homicide (punishable killing). It is the most serious crime having the highest punishment in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Murder is an act of a person who is causing death of another person. A crime has four elements: an offender, mens rea (guilty mind), actus reus (guilty act) and the victim.
The courts find it difficult to differentiate a case of murder from a case of Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder because the descriptions in both are provided by using similar words or phrases.
Murder comes under Section 300 IPC
The Section 300 of the IPC states what murder is and what murder is not. To consider an act of a person as an offence of murder, it should come within the clauses 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the Section 300 of the IPC, but should not fall within any of the five Exceptions enlisted in the Section. Then it should be punished under Section 302 IPC.
If it falls within any of the Exceptions then it will become Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder as defined under Section 299 IPC and will get a punishment for Culpable Homicide under Section 304 IPC.
The courts have to apply the provisions to the facts of the case in hand and find out whether the causing of death comes under murder or not, by applying the four clauses coming under the Section 300 of the IPC.
Ingredients of Murder
An act becomes murder, as provided under Section 300 IPC, when he does it for causing death of a human being with the intention of causing
· Bodily injury which the offender knows to be likely to cause death
· Bodily injury ordinarily sufficient to cause death
The act would also become murder when he does it for causing death
· with the knowledge that the act is imminently dangerous and it must in all probability cause death
That means, if a person does an act with the intention of causing death, it is murder. A person can cause the death of another by endless variety of acts such as poisoning, striking, drowning, firing etc. If a person shoots another with the intention of killing him and he dies, then he is committing the offence of murder. If the death is caused without requisite intention to kill or knowledge of likelihood of causing death on his part, the offence committed would be hurt or its equivalent but not Murder. Absence or presence of intention is a determinant factor.
If he does the act with the knowledge that the act would likely to cause death because of some peculiar condition or state of poor health known to the offender then the act is obviously murder. Such an act need not cause death to a person who is not having such a peculiar condition, in the ordinary course of event. Here intention to cause death is not an essential requirement but intention of causing bodily injury itself coupled with the knowledge that the injury is likely to cause death, is enough. For example, the offender causes a blow on the spleen of a person clearly knowing that the spleen is weak and if that blow in turn causes death, it becomes a case of murder. If he had absolutely no knowledge of the weak condition of the spleen such a blow, even if it causes death, should not come under murder.
Probability of death is crucial in murder
If the person causes bodily injury ordinarily sufficient to cause death and it ends up in death, it is murder. A person intentionally gives a sword cut to cause the death of a person in the ordinary course of event then he is committing murder. If a person fires a loaded gun into the crowd without any excuse and kills a person then he is committing murder. Here the degree of probability in causing death is quite high. For such a bodily injury death will be the most probable result in normal course. Here in this case, the offender does not need to have intention to cause death but bodily injury that in all probability ends up in death will make the act a case of murder.
If the person does an act with the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous which in all probability will cause death, then that is murder. This will also apply to totally reckless and negligent actions having no intention to cause any specific injury: eg rash driving.
Exceptions lower a murderous act into Culpable Homicide
Some murders are not treated as murders if they come within the five exceptions described under Section 300.
So the Section 300 covers both “Culpable Homicide amounting to Murder’ and ‘Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder’.
Distinguishing Murder from Culpable Homicide
To find out whether a homicide is murder or not, the court must first determine whether the accused has done an act (omission / negligence) by which he caused death of another.
In the second stage, the court should consider whether the act amounts to culpable Homicide under Section 299 IPC to find out whether it is a case of Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder.
If the answer is yes, the court should consider whether the act of the accused come within the ambit of any of the four clauses of Section 300 IPC.
If the act falls within any of the four clauses, then the court should check whether the case comes within any of the five Exceptions described in the Section 300 IPC. If it comes then the offence would still be Culpable Homicide but not Murder punishable under Section 304 Para I.
If he case fits well within the four clauses in regard to intention to kill, knowledge of possibility death and definitiveness of death, it is a clear case of murder.
Punishment for Murder
The Section 302 IPC provides punishment for murder. Whoever commits murder is punished with death or life imprisonment for life and fine.
To award death, the aggravating circumstances have to be fully satisfied and there should be no mitigating circumstances favouring the accused.
The prosecution offers evidence of aggravating factors that would merit a harsh sentence during trial. A common aggravating factor is a prior record of similar convictions. The court may impose a harsher sentence if the victim is found to be vulnerable.
The defence provides mitigating factors that would support leniency in sentencing. Mitigating factors that demand a lenient sentencing are lack of a prior criminal record, minor role in the offence, culpability of the victim, past circumstances that resulted in criminal activity, circumstances at the time of the offense, such as provocation, stress, or emotional problems, mental or physical illness, genuine remorse etc.
In addition to both the tests, the court must finally apply the Rarest of Rare test and conclude whether there is something uncommon about the crime which renders the sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for death sentence.