The law of culpable homicide and murder
Murder is the act of killing another person with the intention to kill or cause grievous hurt. In law, there are several ways an act can count as murder. Murder is committed:
- if the act is committed with the intention of causing death;
- if it is done with the intention of causing severe bodily injury likely to cause death;
- if it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person, and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death; or
- if the person committing the act knows there is a high probability of the bodily injury causing death, yet commits the act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death.
The Penal Code also provides some illustrations. The following 2 scenarios constitute murder:
A, knowing that Z is labouring under such a disease that a blow is likely to cause his death, strikes him with the intention of causing bodily injury. Z dies in consequence of the blow. A is guilty of murder, although the blow might not have been sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause the death of a person in a sound state of health. But if A, not knowing that Z is labouring under any disease, gives him such a blow as would not in the ordinary course of nature kill a person in a sound state of health, here A, although he may intend to cause bodily injury, is not guilty of murder, if he did not intend to cause death, or such bodily injury as in the ordinary course of nature would cause death.
A intentionally gives Z a knife-cut or club-wound sufficient to cause the death of a man in the ordinary course of nature. Z dies in consequence. Here A is guilty of murder, although he may not have intended to cause Z’s death.
Murder is punishable by death in Singapore. 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. This means that if you did not kill with the intention to cause death, but committed the act with the intention to, for instance, inflict grievous bodily harm, the court has the power to sentence you to death or life imprisonment and caning.
There are some situations where special defences apply. When they do, one may be found guilty of culpable homicide instead of murder. Some of the exceptions are outlined:
- If the act was committed by the offender whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation. However, the provocation must not have been sought or voluntarily provoked by the offender as an excuse for killing or doing harm.
- If the act was committed in good faith of the right of private defence of person or property. This is so even when the power is exceeded, if it was without premeditation and without any intention of doing more harm than is necessary for the purpose of such defence.
- It is not murder if the offender, being a public servant, or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant, and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.
- It 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. It is immaterial in such cases which party offers the provocation or commits the first assault.
- It is not murder when the person whose death is caused, being above the age of 18 years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent.
- It is not murder if the offender being a woman voluntarily causes the death of her child being a child under the age of 12 months, and at the time of the offence the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child.
- It is not murder if the offender was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in causing the death or being a party to causing the death.
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