Murder vs. Culpable Homicide – Understanding the Key Differences

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According to Sir William Blackstone, “When a person, of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully kills any reasonable creature in being and under the king's peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”

When a person deprives someone of his life, he may or may not be liable for murder but in a broader sense, he has committed culpable homicide. So we can say that “All murders are culpable homicides but all culpable homicides are not murders.” In this article, we will discuss the differences between the types of culpable homicides and murder.

Culpable Homicide

The term Homicide, in its broadest sense, is the act of causing the death of another person. It refers to the unlawful killing of a human being, excluding situations where the killing is justified or excused by law. Homicide is a criminal offense that is categorized into different degrees or classifications, such as justifiable homicide, accidental homicide, culpable homicide, and murder depending on the jurisdiction. Culpable homicide is divided into two categories including culpable homicide amounting to murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code deals with ‘Culpable Homicide’, it states that “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.” 


Murder is a type of homicide that is defined under Section 300 of the IPC, it states that “Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or-

Secondly - If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or-

Thirdly - If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or-

Fourthly -  If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.”

Elements of Murder 

  • The intention of causing death of another person is the primary element of murder.
  • The intention of causing bodily injury or physical injury that is likely to cause death of another person or result in serious injury to another person.
  • The same should be done with the knowledge that a particular action would result in the death of another person.

A person is guilty of murder if all the above-mentioned elements are present. 

Defenses to Murder 

There are various exceptions or defenses that can be invoked in cases of murder. These exceptions are intended to provide legal justifications or excuses for the actions of individuals who have caused the death of another person. It's important to note that the specific exceptions to murder may vary depending on the jurisdiction and legal system involved. Section 300 of the IPC illustrates various expectations or defenses to murder which are listed as follows:

  • Grave and Sudden provocation: This defense is based on the argument that the defendant was provoked to commit the murder by another person's wrongful or unjustifiable conduct. Section 300 defines this exception as “Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.” It means that the provocation must be sufficient to cause a reasonable person to lose control and act impulsively. Notwithstanding the fact that the accused should not have initiated the provocation.
  • Right of self-defense: This defense allows individuals to use force, including deadly force, to protect themselves from imminent harm or death. It typically requires that the person reasonably believed that their life was in danger and that the use of force was necessary to protect themselves. Section 300 defines this exception as “Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, in the exercise in good faith of the right of private defense (self-defense) of person or property, exceeds the power given to him by law and causes the death of the person against whom he is exercising such right of defense without premeditation, and without any intention of doing more harm than is necessary for the purpose of such defense.” 
  • Lawful act of a public servant: If any public servant or any other individual helping a public servant exceeds the powers given to him by law which results in the murder of another person then he will not be guilty of the offence. It should be noted that the public servant should not have any bad intention towards the victim and should believe that the act performed was legal. Section 300 determines that “Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public servant or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.” 
  • Insanity: In case, at the time of occurrence of the offense, the accused is suffering from any kind of mental illness then it may be considered a defense.
  • Sudden conflict without premeditation: As per Section 300 of the IPC, another defense to murder is defined as “Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.” This means that a sudden fight results in the unexpected death of a person where the accused has no intention to kill another person and is done in the heat of passion. 
  • Death with consent: The accused is not guilty of the murder if “the person whose death is caused, being above the age of eighteen years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent.” In such a situation, three things are required to be proved which include the deceased’s permission, the age of the deceased should be over 18 years, and the consent was voluntary and free without any fear or misunderstanding.

Punishment for murder

Depriving someone of his life is probably the grievest crime; hence, the law confers strictest of the punishment for such crimes. Section 302 of the IPC deals with the punishment for murder. As per this Section, anyone who commits an offence of murder should be punished with death penalty (capital punishment) or life imprisonment and a fine. However, the death penalty sentence is given in the rarest of rare circumstances.

Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder 

Section 304 of the IPC deals with the punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. It states that “Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death;

Or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.”

Murder cases and Culpable Homicide cases in India

In this case, the Supreme Court of India provided a brief description of the difference between culpable homicide and murder. It states that “In the scheme of the Penal Code, ‘culpable homicide' is genus and 'murder' its species. All 'murder' is 'culpable homicide' but not vice versa. Speaking generally 'culpable homicide' sans 'special characteristics of murder' is 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder'. For the purpose of fixing punishment, proportionate to the gravity of this generic offence, the Code practically recognizes three degrees of culpable homicide. The first is, what may be called, 'culpable homicide of the first degree’. This is the gravest form of culpable homicide, which is defined in Section 300 as 'murder'. The second may be termed as 'culpable homicide of the second degree’. This is punishable under the 1st part of Section 304. Then, there is 'culpable homicide of the third degree’. This is the lowest type of culpable homicide and the punishment provided for it is, also, the lowest among the punishments provided for the three grades. Culpable homicide of this degree is punishable under the second part of Section 304.”

During the proceedings of this case, the Supreme Court of India extensively discussed the law related to provocation in India. It observed that “(i) The test of "grave and sudden" provocation is whether a reasonable man, belonging to the same class of society as the accused, placed in the situation in which the accused was placed would be so provoked as to lose his self-control. (ii) In India, words and gestures may also, under certain circumstances, cause grave and sudden provocation to an accused so as to bring his act within the first Exception to s. 300 of the Indian Penal Code. (iii) The mental background created by the previous act of the victim may be taken into consideration in ascertaining whether the subsequent act caused grave and sudden provocation for committing the offence. (iv) The fatal blow should be clearly traced to the influence of passion arising from that provocation and not after the passion had cooled down by lapse of time, or otherwise giving room and scope for premeditation and calculation.”

In this case, the top Court addressed the question, “Whether the offence is a murder punishable under Section 302 or culpable homicide not amounting to murder?” The bench also highlighted the facets that should be considered while deciding on the same. It stated that “The intention to cause death can be gathered generally from a combination of a few or several of the following, among other, circumstances : (i) nature of the weapon used; (ii) whether the weapon was carried by the accused or was picked up from the spot; (iii) whether the blow is aimed at a vital part of the body; (iv) the amount of force employed in causing injury; (v) whether the act was in the course of a sudden quarrel or sudden fight or free for all fight; (vi) whether the incident occurs by chance or whether there was any pre-meditation; (vii) whether there was any prior enmity or whether the deceased was a stranger; (viii) whether there was any grave and sudden provocation, and if so, the cause for such provocation; (ix) whether it was in the heat of passion; (x) whether the person inflicting the injury has taken undue advantage or has acted in a cruel and unusual manner; (xi) whether the accused dealt a single blow or several blows.”

Some other relevant cases are:


While murder and homicide both involve the unlawful taking of a life, they differ in intent and legal context. Homicide encompasses a broader range of circumstances, including accidental and justifiable killings, with varying legal consequences. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for a fair and just legal system. Indian law has tried to efficiently differentiate them on the basis of cruelty and gruesomeness and has provided for the punishment accordingly. 

1. Under what circumstances culpable homicide is not murder?
2. Which Section of the Indian Penal Code deals with the punishments of Murder and Culpable Homicide?