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Intention in the Offence of Murder

Intention in the Offence of Murder

Post by on Monday, June 7, 2021

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Intention is the state of mind in relation to consequence. Intention, knowledge, and recklessness are a lethal combo in determining culpability in the offence of murder




The purpose of criminal proceedings is to protect essential public interest as opposed to private interest in civil proceedings. In grave and serious offences such as murder, the state takes upon itself the responsibility of prosecuting the accused. The four elements of a crime are Person, Mens Rea (guilty mind), ActusReus (physical act), and Injury. Out of these, Mens Rea forms the most important element in offence of murder. Indian Penal Code, 1860 doesn’t expressly mention about Mens Rea. Yet the words such as fraudulently, dishonestly, voluntarily, corruptly, maliciously, negligently, malignantly, reason to believe, et cetera connote the same. Intention as an intrinsic component of Mens Rea is quintessentially vital in the offence of murder.


There are offences without Mens Rea which are made punishable under IPC such as offences against state- waging war (S.121), kidnapping (S.359), abduction (S.362) and others. Mens Rea is a state of mind prescribed by law. As per Webster’s dictionary- “Intention is the object for which the act is offered”. In offences such as murder, the intention of accused determines his culpability leading to his conviction or acquittal. It’s the cumulative effect of act plus intent that determines the guilt of accused in murder. The principle of ‘Actus Non FacitReum Nisi Mens Sit Rea’ i.e. the Intent and Act must both concur to constitute the crime forms the arch stone of natural justice.The Act in itself doesn’t make a man guilty unless his intention was so.  Interestingly, under IPC even not doing something constitutes an ‘Act’ i.e. Illegal Omission. The Act done or Act omitted must have been an act forbidden or commanded by law.


In the landmark ruling of  Brend v Wood(1946) 62 T.L.R. 462, Lord Goddard, C.J. held that- “There must always be Mens Rea to constitute a crime, if a person can show that he acted without Mens Rea, that is a defence to a criminal prosecution. Lord Goddard further observed that – “It’s of utmost importance for the protection of the liberty of the subject that a court should always bear in mind that unless a statue either clearly or by necessary implication rules out ‘Mens Rea’ as a constituent part of the crime, the court should not find a man guilty of offence against the criminal law, unless he has a guilty mind”.


It’s imperative to note that Mens Rea must be applicable to all the three constituents of an act- the physical doing or not doing, the circumstances and the resultant effect i.e. the consequences.  If Mens Rea is absent from any part of the act, establishing guilty mind behind the act is not possible for the prosecution. ‘Intention’ and ‘Motive’ though may sound synonymous in normal parlance; there is a sea of difference between the two in criminal law. Motive is the ultimate aim/purpose of the criminal, while intention is the immediate object. Intention is the means while motive is an end in a criminal act. Intention is the purpose or design with which an act is done. Intention constitutes foreknowledge of the act coupled with desire of it.


Whenever, motive has to be examined, the question always will be- ‘Why did the accused do that Act?’, whereas in case of intention, the question is –‘How did the accused do that?’ Motive in itself is not an ingredient of an offence, whereas intention is an ingredient of an offence.


It is the intention that distinguishes a Murder(Section 300) from Culpable Homicide(Section 299)  as laid down by the bench of Justice Melvill, Kemball, and N Haridas  in the landmark Reg vs Govinda (1846) 1 Bom. 342. In this case, the accused had knocked his wife down, put one knee on her chest and delivered her several violent blows on the face with a closed fist. This had produced an extravasation of blood on her brain. She had died in consequence, either on the spot or very shortly afterwards. There being no ‘Intention’ to cause death and bodily injury not being sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, the accused was held liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 299).


A cursory reading of Section 299 of IPC (Culpable Homicide) and Section 300(Murder) also expressly upholds the importance of the word ‘Intention’ in these two offences. Section 299 implies- ‘A person commits culpable homicide, if the act by which the death is caused is done- a) with the intention of causing death b) with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death or c) with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death. Section 300(Murder) reads as- Except in cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is a murder, if the act by which death is caused is done with the intention of causing death or secondly with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of person to whom the harm is caused or thirdly with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in ordinary course of nature to cause death or fourthly with the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.


The first clause of Section 300 expressly mentions about intention on the part of accused. The second clause implies intention and knowledge on part of accused, and likelihood of death through his act. The third clause refers to the nature of injures required to be inflicted in murder, plus intention of the accused while doing so. The fourth clause again reiterates about knowledge of the accused, nature of bodily injuries and the probability, likelihood of death through the act.


Culpable homicide is not murder if it falls within any of the exceptions to Section 300. Whenever, there is an intention to cause death, it will always be a case of murder unless the case falls within one of the exceptions to section 300. The requisite distinction between clause (b) of Section 299 and clause 2 of section 300 lies in the knowledge on the part of offender that the person harmed is likely to die.


The degree of risk to human in the act of accused will distinguish a murder from culpable homicide. If death is ‘likely’ result, it is culpable homicide and if death is the ‘most probable’ result, its murder. The apex court has ruled that- ‘Culpable homicide is genus and murder is its species’. All murders are culpable homicide, but not vice-versa.


Intention as component of Mens Rea is subjective in nature, while Actus Reus is objective in nature. In landmark judgment of  Virsa Singh v State of  Punjab (1958)  1 SCR 1495, Hon’ble bench of  Supreme  Court comprising Justice PB Gajendragadkar, SJ Jafer Imam, and Vivian Bose held that – For bringing a case under Section  300, the prosecution must establish, quite objectively, that a bodily injury is present; the nature of injury must be proved, and it must be proved that there was an intention to inflict that particular bodily injury, that is to say, that it was not accidental or unintentional, or that some other kind of injury was intended. It must also be proved that the injury of the type just described is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.


In Bavisetti Kameshwar Rao v. State of A.P. AIR 2008 SC 1854, it was held that the nature of offence would certainly depend upon the attendant circumstance which would help the court to find definitely about ‘intention’ on the part of accused. Such attendant circumstance could be- whether the act was premeditated, nature of weapon used, the nature of assault on the accused, et cetera.


The Supreme Court bench comprising Justice N.V.Ramana, Justice Shanthagoudar, and Justice Ajay Rastogi has already ruled that the crime test, criminal test, and comparative proportionality test have to be applied while sentencing an accused in a criminal trial in the appeal of State of M.P. v Udham. ‘State of Mind’ is mentioned as one of the important factor in Criminal Test by the apex court. Thus, intention, inter alia is the most culpable form of Mens Rea as it involves acting with the objective of bringing about a consequence.


Intention is the state of mind in relation to consequence. Intention, knowledge, and recklessness are a lethal combo in determining culpability in the offence of murder.



(Author is a budding criminal lawyer at Delhi, he is a national level orator, debater, poet and is BA, B.Com., MA(Socio), M.Com., NET(Socio), NET(Com), LLB. He can be reached at ferozpathanabc @gmail.com) 





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