Homicide, Culpable or Not

I started my Law classes for the year today, and boy did it start with a bang!

First, let me talk about our lecturer. We had Norbani for Criminal Law and my personal opinion of her is that she’s a little mental. But that’s great! She’ll be able to make the study of Criminal Law absolutely fun.

As for what we learned today – we covered the basics of Criminal Law – all crimes generally require two elements:

And we started of with the most gory of all crimes – murder (S.300) and culpable homicide not amounting to murder (S.299). As you can imagine, the cases were all pretty gory but the lecturer managed to make it downright fun at times.

Murder, has the actus reus of causing death. In the case of murder, the main issue is the chain of causation. It must be shown that the death of the victim was caused by the act of the defendant. In this, the medical report i.e. cause of death (COD) is critical.

There are a number of illustrations in the act that show what it means by causing death, supported by a number of classic cases. The key take away is that the injury must be operating and is the major factor in causing the death of the victim. Otherwise, there is no actus reus for homicide, culpable or otherwise.

actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

The next element is that of mens rea or the criminal intent. This is the most critical element and there are varying levels of intent ranging from straightforward assassination to acts of pure stupidity (my own words). The key difference between culpable homicide (S.299) and murder (S.300) is generally the magnitude of the criminal intent.

However, there are also varying levels of intent that have a direct consequence on the maximum sentence meted out. For murder, there are:

  • intent to cause death – straightforward assassination.
  • intent to cause bodily harm, with special knowledge that it would result in the death of V.
  • intent to cause bodily harm, with the natural consequence of the act being death.
  • knowingly putting V in imminent danger, that can cause death, without any reasonable excuse.

For culpable homicide, they are similar to murder, except in the necessary level or magnitude of the intent:

  • intent to cause death – usually of a less violent nature.
  • intent to cause bodily harm, which is likely to cause death.
  • knowingly committing the act, that may normally cause death.

There are a number of tests that can be applied for some of the subjective elements. There are also a number of cases that serve as illustrations on the various elements.

The key take away is that the criminal intent must be proven and cannot be presumed merely from the act or its result. This usually involves the use of a lot of circumstantial evidence or evidence surrounding the murder. Motive, while not proving intent on its own, will affect the state of mind element if absent.

Anyway, that’s my recollection of the key things covered in class today.

PS. I forgot to mention the Objectives of punishments meted out. There are about half a dozen of them. Maybe I’ll talk about those in another blog entry, once I read a bit more about them.

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Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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