The difference between murder and culpable homicide in Singapore

Sections 299 and 300 of the Penal Code govern the offences of culpable homicide and murder respectively.

Section 300 states that you commit murder, if you:

  1. cause the death with the intention of causing the death.
  2. cause the death with the intention of causing bodily injury that you know is likely to kill the person
  3. cause the death with the intention of causing bodily injury, and that bodily injury is objectively determined to be sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.
  4. cause the death knowing that what you are doing is so imminently dangerous that it must in all probability cause death.

If any of the above limbs are fulfilled, then murder has been committed, except where one of the special defences also apply:

  1. when there was provocation
  2. when offender had the right of private defence, but exceeded it
  3. when offender was exceeding the power of a public servant in good faith
  4. when the act was committed as a result of a sudden fight
  5. when the victim is above 18 and had consented to being killed
  6. when it is a case of a mother killing a child of less than 12 months old
  7. when there is a case for diminished responsibility (because of the accused’s mental faculties were substantially impaired)

If the situation falls into one of the categories mentioned above, the offender would not be guilty of murder but would be guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead.

While the death penalty used to be mandatory for accused persons found guilty of murder, it is now discretionary except for the first limb of section 300 with effect from 1 January 2013. In other words, as long as you had not caused the death of the victim with the exact intention of doing so (as is usually the case for murders in cold blood), and are found guilty for murder on a different limb (e.g. intending to cause a bodily injury which was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death), the court can either still sentence you to death, or choose to sentence you to life imprisonment and caning instead.

On the other hand, if you are not found guilty of murder, you may be found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead. The culpable homicide provisions are worded very similarly to those governing murder, seeing as how murder is a subset of culpable homicide.

If found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the punishment differs depending on the mental state of the accused at the time of the killing (e.g. whether you had intended to cause death, or whether you had carried out the act of killing with the knowledge that such act is likely to cause death, though not actually intending for death to happen). See section 304 of the Penal Code for more information.

As a side note, it has to be noted that unlike the law in United States, Singapore does not classify murder in terms of degrees (e.g. first or second degree murder). It also does not have the offence of manslaughter, either voluntary or involuntary. These classifications in the United States are somewhat similar to how the Singapore Penal Code contains four limbs of murder within the same provision, where these provide for the states of mind which the accused could possibly have been under while committing the act of killing.

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