SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT ACTS COMMITTED IN THE SPUR-OF-MOMENT RESULTING IN THE DEATH OF A VICTIM, AMOUNT TO CULPABLE HOMICIDE NOT AMOUNTING TO MURDER
A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar passed a Judgment dated 06.09.2023, in N. Ram Kumar v. The State Rep. By Inspector of Police, Criminal Appeal No. 2006 of 2023, and held that if an act is committed in a spur-of-the-moment or during an argument without any scope for prior planning, or if the circumstances support that the injury was accidental or unintentional, or if he only intended to cause a minor wound, the said acts or omissions would only draw an inference of guilty knowledge and constitute an offence under Section 304 Part II of the IPC i.e. culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
(i) In the present case, the Complainant, who is the Mother of the Deceased Daughter-Sangeetha (Deceased), filed a Complaint before the Cantonment Police Station, Tiruchirappalli City, Tamil Nadu at 01.30 p.m. on 22.06.2010, against one, N. Ram Kumar, the Accused – Appellant herein, based on which, the Inspector of Police, Cantonment Police Station, registered a case in Crime No.1659 of 2010, under Sections 294(b) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) (Obscene acts and songs), 448 IPC (Punishment for house-trespass), 323 IPC (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 I.P.C.( Punishment for criminal intimidation) and Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act 1998 (Penalty for harassment of woman ).
(ii) The Complainant alleged that the Accused and her Daughter had been in love for a while. However, the Deceased was not happy with the Accused’s actions in due course. The Deceased was given a warning by the Complainant. The Deceased stopped seeing the Accused and as a result, ended their relationship.
(iii) The Complainant further alleged that the Deceased thereafter started to fall in love with a man named Sudhakar. The Accused was furious about the same. The Deceased and the Complainant were the only people at their home on 19.06.2010, at about 10.30 p.m. The Accused entered the Complainant’s home illegally. The Accused then yelled at the Deceased, telling her that he would not let them live together. He then punched her Daughter on the face and she fell on the kitchen slab and then he fled away from the place of offence.
(iv) Thereafter, the Complainant took the Deceased to a private hospital, namely, Geethanjali Hospital at Tiruchirappalli. Since she was told that she may have to spend more money in the said Hospital for treatment, she shifted the Deceased to yet another private hospital, known as, K.M.C. Hospital.
(v) Thereafter the Deceased while receiving the treatment eventually passed away on 28.06.2010.
(vi) After the Complainant’s Daughter passed away, the Investigating Officer added the Charge of Section 302 IPC (Punishment for murder) to the aforesaid charges and filed the Chargesheet before the Ld. First Additional District Judge (NCR) Tiruchirappalli (Trial Court) in Case No. C.No.226 of 2010.
(vii) The Ld. Trial Court passed an Order dated 28.03.2013 and convicted the Accused under Sections 450 IPC (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with imprisonment for life) and 302 I.P.C. and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years and to pay a fine of Rs. 50,000/-, in default to undergo simple imprisonment for six months for the offence under Section 450 I.P.C. and to undergo imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs.60,000/- in default to undergo simple imprisonment for six months for the offence under Section 302 I.P.C. The sentences have been ordered to run concurrently.
(viii) Aggrieved by the Trial Court Order dated 28.03.2013, the Appellants-Accused filed a Criminal Appeal before the Madras High Court Bench at Madurai (High Court) in A(MD)No.334 of 2013 seeking setting aside of Ld. Trial Court Order dated 28.03.2013.
(ix) The High Court dismissed the Criminal Appeal filed by the Accused vide Order dated 28.10.2015 by upholding the Ld. Trial Court Order dated 28.03.2013.
(x) Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 17.10.2022, the Appellant-Accused filed Criminal Appeal No. 2006 of 2023 before the Supreme Court.
(I) That there has been delay in filing the Complaint and on this ground alone the theory of the Prosecution cannot be considered as trustworthy.
(II) That the conviction of the Sccused is based on the sole testimony of PW-1 i.e. the Deceased’s Mother / Complainant and the contradictions in her testimony is manifestly clear and is not trustworthy and cannot be relied on to convict the Appellant.
(III) Contradictory versions of the Complainant in her Complaint and Evidence: she deposed in her Complaint that the Accused held pushed the Victim, when she fell on kitchen slab and injured herself, whereas, in the Evidence, she deposed that the Accused pulled the ears of the Victim and dashed her against the wall.
(IV) That the Complainant claimed that the Deceased was taken in an auto rickshaw, but the driver was not testified. Hence, the non-examination of the driver of auto rickshaw creates a doubt in the Prosecution theory.
(V) Neither the clothes of the Accused nor of the Victim were sent for chemical analysis.
(VI) The Accused prayed for sentence being converted to the one under second part of Section 304 IPC (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) in as much as the Accused had no knowledge that his act is likely to cause death, and as such it would amount to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Supreme Court Analysis
(a) That the Supreme Court observed that the final opinion given by the doctor for the cause of death as evident from Exhibit P-9 is as under:
“The Deceased would appear to have died of “head injury”. (viscera report enclosed alcohol in other format was not detected”.)
(b) The Doctor who conducted the postmortem of the Deceased has deposed that two injuries which he had identified had been inflicted a week before, and were in the process of healing.
(c) The Doctor at Cauvery Hospital, Trichy and had examined the Deceased, has deposed that Deceased was in a good speaking condition.
(d) In Rampal Singh Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2012) 8 SCC 289, the Supreme Court held that the intention of the Accused must be judged not in the light of actual circumstances, but in the light of what is supposed to be the circumstances:
It is a trite law that “culpable homicide” is a genus and “murder” is its species and all “murders” are “culpable homicides, but all “culpable homicides” are not “murders”.
(e) In the case of Basdev Vs. State of Pepsu AIR 1956 SC 488 at page 490 the following observations have been made by the Apex Court in respect of two different terminologies, ‘intent’ and ‘knowledge’ and separate punishments are provided for an act committed with an intent to cause bodily injury which is likely to cause death and for an act committed with a knowledge that his act is likely to cause death without intent to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.
“Of course, we have to distinguish between motive, intention and knowledge. Motive is something which prompts a man to form an intention and knowledge is an awareness of the consequences of the act. In many cases intention and knowledge merge into each other and mean the same thing more or less and intention can be presumed from knowledge. The demarcating line between knowledge and intention is no doubt thin but it is not difficult to perceive that they connote different things. Even in some English decisions, the three ideas are used interchangeably and this has led to a certain amount of confusion.”
(f) The Supreme Court observed in the case of Deepak v. State of Uttar Pradesh reported in (2018) 8 SCC 228 in respect of premeditation that due to the fact that the incident occurred on the spur of the moment, a single sword blow to the victim’s rib cage was used, and there was no indication of premeditation, the crime was changed from Section 302 IPC to Section 304 Part II IPC, and the appellant was ordered to be released right away by giving them the time they had already served for their previous conviction.
(g) Most importantly, the Apex Court in the case in the case of Anbazhagan vs. The State represented by the Inspector of Police in Criminal Appeal No.2043 of 2023 laid down the true test to be adopted to find out intention or knowledge of an accused, as reproduced below:
“60. Few important principles of law discernible from the aforesaid discussion may be summed up thus:
(1) When the court is confronted with the question, what offence the accused could be said to have committed, the true test is to find out the intention or knowledge of the accused in doing the act. If the intention or knowledge was such as is described in Clauses (1) to (4) of Section 300 of the IPC, the act will be murder even though only a single injury was caused. To illustrate: ‘A’ is bound hand and foot. ‘B’ comes and placing his revolver against the head of ‘A’, shoots ‘A’ in his head killing him instantaneously. Here, there will be no difficulty in holding that the intention of ‘B’ in shooting ‘A’ was to kill him, though only single injury was caused. The case would, therefore, be of murder falling within Clause (1) of Section 300 of the IPC. Taking another instance, ‘B’ sneaks into the bed room of his enemy ‘A’ while the latter is asleep on his bed. Taking aim at the left chest of ‘A’, ‘B’ forcibly plunges a sword in the left chest of ‘A’ and runs away. ‘A’ dies shortly thereafter. The injury to ‘A’ was found to be sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death. There may be no difficulty in holding that ‘B’ intentionally inflicted the particular injury found to be caused and that the said injury was objectively sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. This would bring the act of ‘B’ within Clause (3) of Section 300 of the IPC and render him guilty of the offence of murder although only single injury was caused.
(2) Even when the intention or knowledge of the accused may fall within Clauses (1) to (4) of Section 300 of the IPC, the act of the accused which would otherwise be murder, will be taken out of the purview of murder, if the accused’s case attracts any one of the five exceptions enumerated in that section. In the event of the case falling within any of those exceptions, the offence would be culpable homicide not amounting to murder, falling within Part 1 of Section 304 of the IPC, if the case of the accused is such as to fall within Clauses (1) to (3) of Section 300 of the IPC. It would be offence under Part II of Section 304 if the case is such as to fall within Clause (4) of Section 300 of the IPC. Again, the intention or knowledge of the accused may be such that only 2nd or 3rd part of Section 299 of the IPC, may be attracted but not any of the clauses of Section 300 of the IPC. In that situation also, the offence would be culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 of the IPC. It would be an offence under Part I of that section, if the case fall within 2nd part of Section 299, while it would be an offence under Part II of Section 304 if the case fall within 3rd part of Section 299 of the IPC.
(3) To put it in other words, if the act of an accused person falls within the first two clauses of cases of culpable homicide as described in Section 299 of the IPC it is punishable under the first part of Section 304. If, however, it falls within the third clause, it is punishable under the second part of Section 304. In effect, therefore, the first part of this section would apply when there is ‘guilty intention,’ whereas the second part would apply when there is no such intention, but there is ‘guilty knowledge’.
(4) Even if single injury is inflicted, if that particular injury was intended, and objectively that injury was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, the requirements of Clause 3rdly to Section 300 of the IPC, are fulfilled and the offence would be murder.
(5) Section 304 of the IPC will apply to the following classes of cases : (i) when the case falls under one or the other of the clauses of Section 300, but it is covered by one of the exceptions to that Section, (ii) when the injury caused is not of the higher degree of likelihood which is covered by the expression ‘sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death’ but is of a lower degree of likelihood which is generally spoken of as an injury ‘likely to cause death’ and the case does not fall under Clause (2) of Section 300 of the IPC, (iii) when the act is done with the knowledge that death is likely to ensue but without intention to cause death or an injury likely to cause death. To put it more succinctly, the difference between the two parts of Section 304 of the IPC is that under the first part, the crime of murder is first established and the accused is then given the benefit of one of the exceptions to Section 300 of the IPC, while under the second part, the crime of murder is never established at all. Therefore, for the purpose of holding an accused guilty of the offence punishable under the second part of Section 304 of the IPC, the accused need not bring his case within one of the exceptions to Section 300 of the IPC.
(6) The word ‘likely’ means probably and it is distinguished from more ‘possibly’. When chances of happening are even or greater than its not happening, we may say that the thing will ‘probably happen’. In reaching the conclusion, the court has to place itself in the situation of the accused and then judge whether the accused had the knowledge that by the act he was likely to cause death.
(7) The distinction between culpable homicide (Section 299 of the IPC) and murder (Section 300 of the IPC) has always to be carefully borne in mind while dealing with a charge under Section 302 of the IPC. Under the category of unlawful homicides, both, the cases of culpable homicide amounting to murder and those not amounting to murder would fall. Culpable homicide is not murder when the case is brought within the five exceptions to Section 300 of the IPC. But, even though none of the said five exceptions are pleaded or prima facie established on the evidence on record, the prosecution must still be required under the law to bring the case under any of the four clauses of Section 300 of the IPC to sustain the charge of murder. If the prosecution fails to discharge this onus in establishing any one of the four clauses of Section 300 of the IPC, namely, 1stly to 4thly, the charge of murder would not be made out and the case may be one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder as described under Section 299 of the IPC.
(8) The court must address itself to the question of mens rea. If Clause thirdly of Section 300 is to be applied, the assailant must intend the particular injury inflicted on the Deceased. This ingredient could rarely be proved by direct evidence. Inevitably, it is a matter of inference to be drawn from the proved circumstances of the case. The court must necessarily have regard to the nature of the weapon used, part of the body injured, extent of the injury, degree of force used in causing the injury, the manner of attack, the circumstances preceding and attendant on the attack.
(9) Intention to kill is not the only intention that makes a culpable homicide a murder. The intention to cause injury or injuries sufficient in the ordinary cause of nature to cause death also makes a culpable homicide a murder if death has actually been caused and intention to cause such injury or injuries is to be inferred from the act or acts resulting in the injury or injuries.
(10) When single injury inflicted by the accused results in the death of the victim, no inference, as a general principle, can be drawn that the accused did not have the intention to cause the death or that particular injury which resulted in the death of the victim. Whether an accused had the required guilty intention or not, is a question of fact which has to be determined on the facts of each case.
(11) Where the prosecution proves that the accused had the intention to cause death of any person or to cause bodily injury to him and the intended injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, then, even if he inflicts a single injury which results in the death of the victim, the offence squarely falls under Clause thirdly of Section 300 of the IPC unless one of the exceptions applies.
(12) In determining the question, whether an accused had guilty intention or guilty knowledge in a case where only a single injury is inflicted by him and that injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, the fact that the act is done without premeditation in a sudden fight or quarrel, or that the circumstances justify that the injury was accidental or unintentional, or that he only intended a simple injury, would lead to the inference of guilty knowledge, and the offence would be one under Section 304 Part II of the IPC.”
(g) In the present case, the Supreme Court observed that it would not be possible to infer that the Appellant intended to kill the Deceased from the one assault he committed, especially when the entire incident lasted for only around 2-3 minutes. If at all the Appellant had been any desire to end the Deceased’s life, he would have prepared and attacked the Deceased with premeditation.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations and laws, the Supreme Court held that the facts that came to light during the trial will have to be considered for changing the penalty imposed under Section 302 IPC to Section 304 Part II of IPC. Thus, the Apex Court allowed the Appeal filed by the Accused in part and thereby, altered/converted the conviction of the Appellant under Section 302 IPC to the one under Section 304 Part II of IPC and sentenced the Appellant to such period of imprisonment as already undergone. As a result, the Appellant-Accused was directed to be released.
Suneel Kumar Jaiswal
The Indian Lawyer