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Will it Amount to Murder if There is No Intention to Kill?

What is Intention?

In a courtroom, the term “intention” can change the whole game and can either cause the party (defendant) to end up in jail or lead him straight to victory. By this statement, most of us can deduce one thing that “intention” plays a rather important role in criminal law cases, unlike the civil law cases (negligent/unintentional torts) where the intention of a party is often immaterial. 

Under criminal law, this concept of criminal intent has been referred to as mens rea which simply means an illegal act accompanied by malice or wrongful purpose. For instance, a woman (X) hid inside a closet to scare (Y), a 55-year-old man. (Y) proceeds to open the closet and gets so surprised by (X) that he collapses and later, in the hospital is declared dead. Now, here, in this case, the woman (X) can not be held liable for murder. However, if the woman (X) had knowledge that (Y) was suffering from heart disease and still, intentionally went on to surprise him with the knowledge that such an act could potentially kill (Y) then in this case, (X) could be held liable. 

Intention & Murder: Understanding its Significance in the Criminal Law 

Intention and murder go hand in hand, in order for an act to constitute a crime or in this case, murder, there are four essential elements that need to be fulfilled. These essentials are an act that must be committed with an intention to cause such a bodily injury that in the ordinary course of nature is sufficient to cause death and having the knowledge that such an act will in all probabilities cause the death of the person. Intention plays such a crucial role because it acts as a determining factor in the sentencing of a criminal. For instance, if the prosecutor fails to establish the intention then the defendant can be made liable for culpable homicide or manslaughter and can get a much lower sentence then in murder. 

Difference between Culpable Homicide/Manslaughter and Murder

Most of us come across such terms when reading the newspaper or listening to the news or simply watching a crime series on the television. What we don’t realize is that all these legal terms have a completely different meaning in a courtroom. 

Homicide: Homicide is simply the killing of a person by another person. The Latin “homo” means man and the Latin “cida” means “killing” and both combined means “killing a man”. Homicide may or may not make a person liable. For instance, a soldier kills another soldier, however, he is not liable for murder. 

Manslaughter: Although the term “manslaughter” sounds more heinous than “murder”, it is not as it lacks the “intention to kill”. Manslaughter is often considered a less serious offense than murder and has a much lower sentence. In India, Manslaughter/Culpable Homicide is considered to be the same, however, the term “manslaughter” is not used in the definition that is laid under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. Both the terms, “manslaughter” and “culpable homicide” have been used by different nations to describe the offense of killing a person without an intention to kill.

Culpable Homicide: When making a differentiation between murder and culpable homicide, one has to keep in mind that there is a thin line that is separating the two and i.e., the degree of intention. In this case, a person may or may not have an intention to kill, however, the injuries inflicted by him are sufficient to cause death in the normal course of nature. Here the intention to kill may not involve any premeditated plan to kill a person but can be a result of a grave and sudden provocation or acts committed in the heat of the moment, or acts done by a public servant with good faith.

For instance, in Kusa Majhi v State of Orissa, the deceased admonished her own son for not going fishing with the co-villagers. Infuriated at this the accused, the son brought an axe and dealt with the blows on her shoulder and she died. There was no pre-plan for the offense. The blows were not on the neck or head region. The accused dealt blows likely to cause bodily injury which was likely to cause death and he dealt blows on the spur of moment and anger. Therefore it was held to be a case of culpable homicide.


When the act of killing another person is done with some degree of premeditation involved in it, it amounts to murder. Premeditation may involve the preparation for luring the victim or disposing of the evidence or the use of some kind of weapon and where it was used on the body. A lot of factors have to be considered before a person can be held liable for murder. And if there is no premeditation or intention to kill, then it may not amount to murder but instead, lie under the jurisdiction of culpable homicide or manslaughter. So, in the end, if the prosecutor fails to prove the “intention to kill” then it will not amount to murder. 


Case: Kusa Majhi v State of Orissa 1985 Cr. L.j 1460


Please note that the author of this article is using American English and therefore, the spelling of certain terms may be different. For example, the word “realize” is not spelled with an “s” and instead with a “z”. 

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