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What is Culpable Homicide?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Culpable homicide is a form of criminal homicide that can either indicate that there was or was not intent to kill a person, depending on the country it is used in. In Scotland, for example, culpable homicide typically indicates that the death occurred due to negligence or other actions that indicate a person’s responsibility for someone’s death. This usage is similar to manslaughter in the US and England, and can indicate that a death was caused purposefully or accidentally. In India, on the other hand, culpable homicide tends to indicate a purposeful killing, but can also be used to indicate crimes that do not satisfy India’s legal definition of murder.

The term typically comes from early usage in Scottish common law that continues to this day. It is similar in meaning to the American or British usage of the term “manslaughter” to indicate a criminal killing that does not meet the requirements of murder. Murder is typically a killing that is purposeful and done in a way that indicates premeditation or “malice aforethought.” Manslaughter, or culpable homicide, typically indicates that a criminal killing has occurred but that the person who has done the killing did so without murderous intent or premeditation.

Scottish law continues to use the term in this way and, much like American manslaughter, it can be either voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary homicide typically indicates that a person has knowingly and purposefully killed someone else, but that the act was not planned out and usually occurs in a moment of extreme emotional disturbance. Involuntary homicide, on the other hand, indicates that someone has been killed due to an accident or through negligence, but that someone is responsible for that accidental death. Other countries, however, use the term to indicate any type of death or killing in which someone can be held responsible.

India, for example, uses the term “culpable homicide” to mean any sort of death that occurs due to the actions of someone else. It typically indicates a crime similar to American murder or manslaughter, with the severity of the charge usually based on premeditation and planning. “Culpable homicide not amounting to murder” is a charge in Indian law that indicates that someone has killed another person intentionally, but that the act did not have other circumstances necessary to qualify as murder. This is similar to the distinction in US courts between various types of murder and manslaughter.

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Discussion Comments

By anon323593 — On Mar 06, 2013

Me and my wife were at the hospital and had a person looking after our child, age 4 years. We were told our child died when he fell down from the corridor of our house that is on the fourth floor.

There was no rescue provided, nor was an ambulance rescue team called to save the life of my child. Instead, the child was brought to the hospital where my wife had been admitted.

The culprit did not inform me or the neighbours.

The statement he gave us was, since our son was sleeping, the person went to have dinner, leaving the child alone and locking him inside the house without anyone being with him.

By bluespirit — On Sep 21, 2011

think is important to distinguish between the different types of homicide. It is not fair to give someone the same amount of time for a lesser/accidental crime.

I know someone who went to jail for involuntary manslaughter. He had been fighting with this security guard, and it escalated into a physical altercation. The man pushed the security guard down a flight of stairs and the security guard tragically broke his neck on the way down and died.

It was not the man's intent to kill the guy, and he had never done anything like that before or since that horrible accident. I know that to the victim's family it probably didn't matter much what his intent was, but legally it is important.

This is the same as drinking and driving. They do not intentionally have an accident, they probably don't even remember driving. They should not get the same sentence as someone who plots someone else's murder, or even the same sentence of someone who kills in a moment of rage.

I hope that being haunted with knowing you killed someone, intentionally or unintentionally, is more punishment than any length of time someone is incarcerated for anyway.

I believe in the end, everyone will get what they deserve anyway, so no one truly escapes their punishment.

By Azuza — On Sep 21, 2011

@JaneAir - I know that's how our justice system works, but I don't know. I mean, regardless of whether you meant to kill someone or not they are still dead! Right?

It seems like the penalty for killing someone should be the same across the board. Just because you "didn't mean to do it" doesn't mean the persons family suffers even less because of their loss.

By JaneAir — On Sep 20, 2011

I find it interesting that, although the terms are different, most places make a distinction between different types of homicide. Usually the penalties are different if the homicide was premeditated, accidental, or done in the heat of the moment.

I think this is as it should be. I don't think a person who plans out a cold-blooded killing should receive the same penalty as say, someone who accidentally kills someone because of their own negligence.

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