When discussing serious offences in the Singaporean legal system, the topic of culpable homicide inevitably comes up. But what is it exactly, and how does it differ from murder? This article aims to shed light on the meaning of culpable homicide and the intricacies surrounding it.
1. What Is Culpable Homicide?
In Singapore law, culpable homicide not amounting to murder refers to cases where a person causes death without the specific intent required for the act to be classified as murder.
Essentially, it encompasses scenarios where death is caused either unintentionally, due to negligence, or without the level of intent or knowledge specified for murder in the Penal Code. It is a nuanced distinction, emphasising the difference in intent and foreseeability between culpable homicide and murder.
Culpable homicide is generally a less severe offence than murder and is punishable by imprisonment, but the punishment may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
2. What is Murder?
Murder is a subset of culpable homicide. It is committed when a person intentionally causes the death of another or causes bodily injury that the person knows is likely to result in death. Murder implies a higher degree of intentionality and malice compared to culpable homicide.
While both culpable homicide and murder revolve around the act of causing death, the intentionality, the foresight of the act’s outcome, and the circumstances surrounding the act differentiate the two in the eyes of the Court.
Murder is a capital offence in Singapore, and the penalty may include the death penalty or life imprisonment, depending on the specific circumstances and the Court’s discretion.
3. Legal Implications Of Culpable Homicide And Murder
Understanding the meaning of culpable homicide and murder is incomplete without delving into the legal implications and associated penalties.
Sections Governing Culpable Homicide
The Singaporean Penal Code, in Sections 299 and 304, lays down the definitions and punishments related to culpable homicide. It captures the essence of acts that can cause death without the outright intention of killing.
For an act to be considered culpable homicide, it must meet the following criteria:
- Causing death with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause death (Section 299(a)).
Illustration: Sarah, in a heated argument with Alex, hits him repeatedly with a baseball bat, aiming to cause him severe bodily harm. Sarah is fully aware that her actions are likely to result in Alex’s death, but her direct intention was to cause him severe injury, not to kill him.
Unfortunately, Alex succumbs to his injuries and dies. In this case, Sarah’s actions fall under culpable homicide under Section 299(a) because she intended to cause severe bodily injury that she knew could lead to death.
- Causing death with the knowledge that the act is likely to cause death but without the intention to cause death (Section 299(b)).
Illustration: John, while playing a dangerous prank, throws a heavy object off a building, striking and seriously injuring Mary on the ground below. John did not intend to kill Mary, but he was fully aware that his reckless act was highly likely to cause her death.
Tragically, Mary does die as a result of her injuries. John’s actions constitute culpable homicide under Section 299(b) because he knew that his act would likely cause death even though he did not intend to kill Mary.
- Causing death by a negligent act (Section 304(a)).
Illustration: Jane, a bus driver, is driving recklessly and speeding through a residential area while using her phone. She fails to notice a pedestrian crossing the road and hits the pedestrian, causing fatal injuries.
Jane’s negligent driving, combined with her use of the phone, led to the pedestrian’s death. In this case, Jane’s actions constitute culpable homicide under Section 304A because she caused death through a negligent act, namely her reckless and distracted driving.
Sections Governing Murder
Sections 300 to 302 of the Penal Code detail what constitutes murder and the penalties associated with it. Here, specific scenarios and intentions are described, which elevate the act of causing death to murder.
For an act to be considered murder, it must meet the following criteria:
- Deliberate intent to cause death (300(a))
Illustration: John, with the clear and conscious intention to end Mary’s life, poisons her food, which ultimately leads to her death. In this case, John’s act constitutes murder as he had the deliberate intent to cause Mary’s death.
- Intent to cause bodily harm likely to result in death (300 (b))
Illustration: Sarah viciously attacks Tom with a deadly weapon, fully aware that her actions are highly likely to result in Tom’s death. Despite not having the direct intention to kill him, her intention to cause serious bodily harm that she knows may lead to death constitutes murder.
- Intent to inflict bodily harm ordinarily expected to result in death (300(c))
Illustration: Mark, in a fit of rage, repeatedly beats Alex with a blunt object, intending to cause severe bodily harm. Mark is aware that the injuries inflicted are of such a nature that they are typically expected to lead to death. In this case, Mark’s actions constitute murder.
- Awareness of extremely perilous act without valid excuse (300(d))
Illustration: Lisa, without any valid reason or excuse, engages in a highly dangerous activity that she knows is almost certain to cause death or severe bodily injury resulting in death.
Despite being fully aware of the extreme risk, she proceeds with the act, and as a result, someone dies. Lisa’s conduct constitutes murder because she knowingly accepted the risk of causing death or severe injury without any valid justification.
4. Acts Causing Death That Aren’t Considered Murder Or Culpable Homicide
Certain acts can lead to death but do not amount to murder or culpable homicide. They can be classified as causing death by rash or negligent act and causing the death of a child below 14 years of age, domestic worker, or vulnerable person by sustained abuse.
Causing Death By Rash or Negligent Act
The Singapore Penal Code Section 304A deals with situations where a person causes the death of another person by a rash or negligent act but without the intention to cause death.
If a person’s reckless or negligent actions lead to the death of another person, they may be charged under this section, and if convicted, they could face imprisonment for up to 5 years, a fine, or both.
Causing Death The Death Of A Child Below 14 Years Of Age, Domestic Worker, Or Vulnerable Person By Sustained Abuse
The Penal Code include provisions related to child abuse, abuse of domestic workers, and crimes against vulnerable persons. These include people who are unable to shield themselves from abuse or neglect due to mental or physical infirmity, disability, or incapacity.
Section 304B addresses the crime and the corresponding penalties. A person commits sustained abuse by deliberately inflicting harm and/or neglecting the victim on at least two occasions.
It’s noteworthy that sustained abuse could also occur over a single occasion if it has persisted over an extended period.
The penalty for causing the death of such individuals through sustained abuse can result in imprisonment for up to 20 years, along with the possibility of a fine or caning, contingent on the case’s specific circumstances.
5. Penalties And Sentencing for Culpable Homicide And Murder In Singapore
In Singapore, the penalties for both offences are grave, but they vary in severity.
Culpable Homicide: The severity of the penalty for culpable homicide depends on various factors, including the act’s circumstances and any aggravating factors. The punishment can range from 15 to 20 years of imprisonment with a fine or caning and even life imprisonment.
Attempt to Commit Culpable Homicide: If harm is inflicted upon the victim, the offender may be subject to a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, a fine, caning, or a combination of these penalties.
If no harm is inflicted upon the victim, the offender may face a maximum prison sentence of 7 years and/or a fine.
Murder: The penalties are more severe, with a mandatory death penalty for certain types of murder. However, with the amendments over the years, the discretionary death penalty, life imprisonment, and caning may be meted out in some instances.
Attempted Murder: An act committed to cause death but does not lead to death is called attempted murder.
In cases where no harm results, the offender could receive a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, coupled with a fine.
If harm does occur, the offender might be subject to one of the following consequences: life imprisonment and caning, or a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years, along with the possibility of a fine and/or caning.
6. Murder Charge Reduced To Culpable Homicide
In Singapore, a murder charge can be reduced to culpable homicide based on certain circumstances that may affect the accused’s intent or capacity during the act.
A murder charge can be reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder if:
- The defendant’s mental disorder substantially impaired their responsibility for the crime.
- The accused was provoked into committing the act, and this sudden provocation caused them to lose self-control.
- It can be demonstrated that the accused had no intention to cause death or did not have the knowledge that their actions would likely result in death.
- The accused acted in self-defence, but the force used was excessive and resulted in death.
Conclusion On Culpable Homicide Vs. Murder
In Singapore’s legal framework, both culpable homicide and murder refer to the act of causing the death of a person, but they differ primarily in terms of intention and knowledge.
Culpable homicide encompasses acts where death results, but without the full intent or knowledge required to classify the act as murder.
Murder, on the other hand, is a graver offence and is characterised by a more direct intention or knowledge. It includes situations where the offender intentionally causes death or intentionally inflicts bodily injury that they know is likely to result in death.
As always, when dealing with legal matters, it’s advisable to consult with a criminal defence lawyer to gain a comprehensive understanding tailored to specific situations.
When it comes to choosing the best criminal litigation law firm in Singapore, trust Tembusu Law. Our experienced criminal defence attorneys handle corporate and commercial crimes, ensuring our client’s rights are protected.
Frequently Asked Questions About Culpable Homicide Vs. Murders
What Are The Potential Defences Against a Charge of Culpable Homicide and Murder?
Potential defences against a charge of culpable homicide in Singapore include proving that the accused did not know that their act would likely to cause death or that it was committed in self-defence.
Meanwhile, potential defences against a charge of murder include diminished responsibility due to mental illness, intoxication, duress, provocation, self-defence, and the absence of requisite intention to kill or cause fatal harm.
What Is The Difference Between Manslaughter And Culpable Homicide in Singapore?
“Manslaughter” isn’t commonly used within the Singaporean legal context. The term is predominantly used in common law jurisdictions like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
However, the Singapore Law categorises similar acts under “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” and “causing death by a rash or negligent act.”
What Is Attempted Murder?
Attempted murder is a criminal act where an individual takes significant steps to intentionally cause the death of another person but fails to succeed in causing the actual death. It involves the specific intent to kill and is a serious offense, punishable by law.
Is The Death Penalty Always Applied For Murder In Singapore?
No, the death penalty is not always applied for murder offence in Singapore. While certain circumstances of murder in the Singapore Penal Code do carry a mandatory death penalty, others do not.