The Difference between murder and culpable homicide in Singapore
With the recent cases of youth slashings in Singapore in broad daylight, it is probable that members of the public would be speculating on the fates of the culprits in court. If Singapore were more liberal, Singapore Pools might even have been offering bets on the outcomes. It is all justifiable speculation, because the criminal justice system is meant to serve the public. In an ideal world, the sentences meted out would be the conclusion of the public.
Generally, when someone is charged for killing another, the first question is, would the dude hang? After all, Singapore has the mandatory death penalty for murder. Failing that, a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder would usually stand. So what is the difference between culpable homicide not amounting to murder and murder? Where is this godly line that determines life and death?
The line is found somewhere in sections 299 and 300 of the Penal Code, which can be found by googling ‘statutes’. Just for your information, the Penal Code is not the only source of criminal law but it is the major source, and it has been imported from India (then a British colony) like so many other things in Singapore.
s299 defines culpable homicide, and s300 defines what is murder.
In s300, it says that you commit murder, if you (with a little paraphrasing)
- cause the death with the intention of causing the death.
- cause the death with the intention of causing bodily injury that you know is likely to kill the person
- 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.
- 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 are fulfilled, then murder has been committed, except when it also fulfills the requirements below (also known as the special defences) (again heavily summarised)
- when there was provocation
- when offender had the right of private defence, but exceeded it
- when offender was exceeding power of a public servant in good faith
- when the act was committed as a result of a sudden fight
- when there was consent on the part of the victim
- when it is a case of a mother killing a child of less than 12 months old
- when there is a case for diminished responsibility
If the situation falls into the categories mentioned above, the offender would not be guilty of murder but would be guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
All that seems incredibly easy and simple, so much so that you may wonder what criminal lawyers are for.
The short answer is that there are many contentious issues that have spawned literature that has caused the death of a million trees. For instance, if an offender does not fall under any of the 4 choices for murder under s 300, is he still liable under s299 for culpable homicide? The question arises because s300 is a subset of s299 and s299 is worded very closely to s300, such that it is difficult to find a practical difference. I shall not expound on it here, but do look up the definitions in the Penal Code if you have the interest. It will be sufficient to kill your interest.
Another example is the definition of ‘bodily injury’ under the 3rd choice of s300. Whether it is defined broadly (the stab to the leg) or narrowly (the puncture of the vein) will determine whether the accused had the intention to cause it and consequently whether he is guilty of murder.
Maybe, by now, you’ve understood the difference between murder and culpable homicide, and that would be divine.