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Often difficult to distinguish between murder and culpable homicide as both involve death: SC

It is “often difficult” to distinguish between murder and culpable homicide as both involve death but there is subtle distinction of intention and knowledge in both the crimes, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

Often difficult to distinguish between murder and culpable homicide as both involve death: SC
Supreme Court of India (File Photo)

New Delhi

The apex court made the observation while altering the conviction of a man, who was earlier held guilty for murdering a sub-inspector in Madhya Pradesh, to the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. 

A bench of justices K M Joseph and S Ravindra Bhat modified the sentence awarded to the convict from life imprisonment to 10-year jail term. 

“The question of whether in a given case, a homicide is murder, punishable under section 302 IPC (Indian Penal Code), or culpable homicide, of either description, punishable under section 304 IPC (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) has engaged the attention of courts in this country for over one and a half century, since the enactment of the IPC; a welter of case law, on this aspect exists, including perhaps several hundred rulings by this court,” the bench said in its verdict. 

The top court was dealing with a petition filed by one Mohd Rafiq, who had challenged the verdict of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had confirmed his conviction and life sentence imposed on him for the offence of murder. In its verdict, the apex court noted that use of term ‘likely’ in several places in respect of culpable homicide highlights the “element of uncertainty” that the act of accused may or may not have killed the person. “Section 300 IPC which defines murder, however refrains from the use of the term likely, which reveals absence of ambiguity left on behalf of the accused. The accused is for sure that his act will definitely cause death,” it said. 

“It is often difficult to distinguish between culpable homicide and murder as both involve death. Yet, there is a subtle distinction of intention and knowledge involved in both the crimes. This difference lies in the degree of the act. There is a very wide variance of degree of intention and knowledge among both the crimes,” the bench said. 

Dealing with the case, the bench noted that as per the prosecution, the police station had received information on March 9, 1992 that a truck had broken the forest department barrier and collided with a motorcycle. The prosecution alleged that the police team was alerted and sub-inspector (SI) D K Tiwari along with others were stationed at a point when the truck reached there. It claimed that the SI motioned the truck, which was driven by the accused, to stop but he accelerated. 

The SI boarded the truck and the accused pushed him as a result of which he fell-off the vehicle and was run over, the police had said, adding that the officer had died. 

The bench said even if the prosecution version that the accused having threatened to kill the SI was to be accepted, “one cannot set much store by it, because no motive or no animus against the deceased was proved.” “Did the appellant intend to kill SI Tiwari? We think not. Clearly, he knew that SI Tiwari had fallen off; he proceeded to drive on. However, whether the deceased fell in the direction of the rear tyre of the truck or whether he fell clear of the vehicle has not been proved; equally it is not clear from the evidence that the appellant knew that he did,” it said, adding that his conviction for the offence of murder was not appropriate.

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