The case of Muthu v State of Tamil Nadu will be analysed in this article to provide an insight into the complexities of criminal law, or more specifically, the law against murder. A dead body and an identified culprit are not the ends of the criminal adjudication as the legal system deals with various intricacies involving any act of crime. The case highlights one such complexity in the adjudication of a case involving an act of violence resulting in the death of the victim.
In the Supreme Court of India
|Name of the Case||Muthu v State By Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu|
|Citation||(2007) 12 SCALE 795|
|Year of the Case||2007|
|Respondent||Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu|
|Bench/Judges||A.K. Mathur, Markandey Katju|
|Acts Involved||Indian Penal Code|
|Important Sections||300, 302, 304|
Introduction and Background
The case aims to provide clarity on the concept of murder and exceptions to murder, wherein a violent act resulted in the death of the victim but is not necessarily termed as murder as per the legal definition. One such exception is sudden and grave provocation and this exception is expanded upon in this judgement. While the trial court and the High Court ruled that in the instant case, the act of violence was murder. On appeal, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts and ruled that the act was caused by sudden and grave provocation and therefore, came under the exceptions to murder.
The brief facts of the case are that the accused, Muthu, was working in a wastepaper merchant shop and arranging the articles kept in it. The deceased, Siva used to collect waste paper from the roadside. On the day of the incident, he collected wastepaper and abandoned cardboard boxes and threw them into the shop of the accused. The accused became angry and shouted at the deceased, stating “Why do you do this every day?”. The accused pulled Siva’s hair after which, Siva pushed Muthu. There was a knife kept on top of the table in the shop, which Muthu took and used it to stab Siva in the chest. The injuries inflicted on Siva led to his death. This entire incident was witnessed by Radhakrishnan, Sakthivel, and Arumugam (PWs in the case) who were present at the tea shop which was situated next to the wastepaper shop Muthu worked at.
Whether the accused is guilty of murder or does the case fall under the exceptions under section 300 of the IPC?
The relevant provision is the following exception to murder enshrined under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code:
“Exception 1.- When culpable homicide is not murder.—Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident…
Exception 4. – Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.”
The exceptions to the crime of murder are provided for instances wherein an accused commits an act that results in the death of the victim out of a fit of rage or sudden provocation. Although, humans are different from animals and are expected to be civilized and uphold standards that do not allow the commission of violent acts, exceptions occur where they may lose self-control and commit crimes. These exceptions allow for punishment for such crimes but recognize that these instances cannot be equated with pre-meditated and calculated murder. Where the facts and circumstances fall under the exceptions enlisted under section 300 of the IPC, the lesser punishment is accorded to the accused compared to the punishment for murder.
Precedents relied on by the Court
Kunhayippu vs. State of Kerala 2000 (10) SCC 307
The decision dealt with a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The accused in the case had followed the deceased and stabbed him with a dagger. A scuffle followed where the accused and deceased were trying to overpower each other, during which additional injuries were inflicted upon the deceased. Two more serious injuries were inflicted while the rest were only skin deep. As a result of these injuries, the victim succumbed to death. The Supreme Court ruled that according to the evidence and medical opinion injury no. 1 was inflicted by the accused, the other serious injuries occurred during the scuffle. The accused intended to inflict only one injury on the deceased and the other injuries were due to the scuffle. The Court ruled that it would be improper to punish the accused for murder and therefore, the order was passed to punish the accused under section 304 for the commission of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Pulicherla Nagaraju vs. State of A.P. 2006 (11) SCC 444
(The scope is restricted to the principles relied upon by the Court in the Muthu case)
The decision, in this case, clarified that to gauge the presence of an intention to cause death, the surrounding several circumstances must be taken into consideration. The circumstances mentioned in the decision included, whether the accused was carrying a weapon, or it was picked up from a spot. If it was carried by the accused from the beginning it may be considered as a circumstance indicating that the accused had an intention to cause death. If the weapon was used to attack the deceased on a vital part of the body, it can be deduced that there was a pre-meditated intention to kill the deceased. However, if the weapon was not initially with the accused, but the accused picked it up at some point during the altercation, then the act may not be considered to be murder as contemplated under Section 302 IPC. It may be a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder which is punishable under Section 304 IPC rather than under Section 302 IPC.
The Supreme Court, in this case, ruled that based on the facts and circumstances, the accused was liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The case fell within exception 1 (grave and sudden provocation) and exception 4 (sudden fight in the heat of passion) of section 300 as all the ingredients were fulfilled. It was accepted that throwing garbage inside someone’s shop will certainly enrage the person working in the shop and result in provoking that individual. It may very likely cause a person to lose self-control and commit acts that they would not have committed after premeditation. The accused had to intention or motive to commit the act of murder.
Additionally, the accused did not act in a cruel manner or take undue advantage as indicated by the facts and the testimonies of the witnesses. Rather, the incident that resulted in the death of Shiv occurred during a sudden fight in the heat of passion. There was no indication of a pre-meditated intention to commit murder either as the knife was picked up during the time the incident and the accused did not bring it with him. The accused did not do anything to seek the provocation from Shiv. The Court opined that the act was not committed with the intention to cause death, however, it was done with the knowledge that the act could result in death. Therefore, Muthu was punished under the second part of section 304 of the IPC.
The case sheds light on the concept of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. It gives an indication as to the factors considered when adjudicating such a case and states that jurisprudence behind such exceptions. The crimes committed under provocation or in a sudden fight in the heat of passion when an individual has lost self-control cannot be equated to planned cold-blooded murders. Surrounding circumstances of each case must be evaluated to decide whether the accused intended to commit murder beforehand or whether it was a result of a loss of self-control. Some circumstances include the number and severity of the injury, the availability of weapons used to cause injury, and the actions of the accused and the victim.