The thin line between Culpable Homicide and Murder: Andhra Pradesh High Court

We have witnessed various ways in which the term ‘intention’ has been used by the courts to understand whether an act would amount to culpable homicide or murder and even if there is confusion, there also exists a thin line between the two which was interpreted or made clear in case of State of Andhra Pradesh vs Rayavarpu Punnayya (Criminal Appeal No. 214 of 1971) through the learned bench lead by Sarkaria, Ranjit Singh.

Facts of the case :- The incident took place during the time of the elections when the leaders of three different communities i.e. Reddys, Kammas, and Bhatrajus were in constant conflict. The leader of Bhatrajus was called to the police station for an old ongoing case. On July 23 1968, the leader boarded a bus at nekarikal with his companies. Later it was reported that the accused followed him from the time he boarded the bus, picked up heavy sticks, and went after the leader into the choultry where he was waiting. The leader was later attacked and despite the entries made by him, the Accused indiscriminately pounded the legs and arms of the deceased causing his death. It’s important to note that an autopsy was conducted by Dr. in whose opinion the injury found on the deceased was cumulatively sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.

Judgment:- In the scheme of the Indian penal code, culpable homicide is genus and murder is its species, all murders are culpable homicide but not vice-versa. Homicide is a Latin term that literally means ‘the murdering of a human being’. Under Section 299 of the IPC homicide becomes culpable when a human being terminates the life of another in a blameworthy manner. Culpability is determined by the accused’s purpose, knowledge, and method of action.

The essential ingredients constituting culpable homicide is there must be a death of a person, that death should have resulted from the actions of other people, and such action must have been done with an intention of causing death or bodily injuries which can lead to death or knowledge that such an act is likely to cause death.  

It was also held that the first is murder under Section 300, The second is culpable homicide not amounting to murder falling under the first part of Section 304, and the third is culpable homicide amounting to murder falling under the second part of Section 304.  

The High Court altered the decision of the Trial Judge and reduce their imprisonment to five years of rigorous imprisonment to each by stating that the accused had no intentions to cause death because they deliberately avoid hitting any vital parts of the body of the deceased.

High Court reached to the conclusion by stating some reasons. That there was no premeditation attack, and it was an impulsive act. That all the 21 injuries were on arms and legs and not on any vital parts of the body. That no compound fracture was there as to hemorrhage but some bleeding which stopped after some time. That the death had occurred 21 hours later which could have been by duly shock and hemorrhage. That the accused used sticks to attack with heavy sticks which doesn’t result in any fractures.

Aggrieved by the decision of the High Court State Authority appeals to the Honorable Supreme Court, where the SC held that the High Court was in error by altering the conviction of the accused from section 302 of IPC to section 304 of IPC. The Honorable Supreme Court allowed this appeal by restoring the order of the Trial Court, convicting the accused for murder with a sentence of imprisonment for life to each.

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