What Is Culpable Homicide: A Singaporean Perspective

by | Dec 1, 2023 | Blog

The legal landscape can often be difficult to navigate thanks to a myriad of difficult terms. Here we aim to shed light on what is culpable homicide, its legal implications, certain exceptions, and how it differs from murder under Singaporean law.

Understanding legal terms associated with violent crimes is crucial for informed civic participation and personal awareness. Consult a legal professional if you are involved in a situation requiring legal assistance.

What Is Culpable Homicide?

In Singapore, the term Culpable Homicide is defined under Section 299 of the Penal Code. Culpable homicide occurs when a person causes death intending to cause death or bodily injury that is likely to cause death or when the person knows that their actions are so imminently dangerous that they must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury.

In simpler terms, culpable homicide involves causing death or severe bodily injury that leads to death, either intentionally or with reckless disregard for human life.

Elements Required For The Charge

For a person to be charged with culpable homicide in Singapore, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. The accused caused the death of a human being.
  2. The act was done intentionally to cause death or bodily injury likely to cause death, or the accused knew that the act was so dangerous that it would likely result in death or serious bodily injury.

Culpable Homicide Vs Murder

An easy way to think of it is that every offence of murder is always culpable homicide. However, not every offence of culpable homicide is murder.

Though they may seem similar, critical differences set them apart in the eyes of the law.

What Is Murder?

Murder, as defined by Section 300 of the Penal Code, is essentially a form of culpable homicide but with specific aggravating elements. It occurs when a person causes death intending to cause death or causes bodily injury intending to cause death, and the act is committed with planning and malice.

When Is Culpable Homicide Murder?

Culpable homicide becomes murder when it fulfils additional criteria. These could include:

  • Intent to cause death;
  • Causing bodily injury with the knowledge that it is likely to result in death;
  • Or doing an act that is imminently dangerous and without any justification for incurring the risk of causing death or severe bodily injury.

In summary, murder involves an added layer of malicious intent or planning that distinguishes it from culpable homicide.


Exceptions: When Culpable Homicide Is Not Murder

Singapore has a crucial legal distinction between “murder” and “culpable homicide not amounting to murder.” The Penal Code outlines seven exceptions under which an act that causes death only amounts to culpable homicide, not murder.

7 Exceptions To When Culpable Homicide Is Not Murder:

  1. Provocation: If the person committing the homicide was provoked to such an extent that they lost self-control, the act may be considered culpable homicide, not amounting to murder.
  2. Self-Defence: If the person caused death while acting in self-defence but applied excessive force, it may reduce the charge from murder to culpable homicide.
  3. Public Servant: If a public servant causes death while acting in the line of duty but exceeds the power given to him by law, it is culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
  4. Accidental Death: If death is caused unintentionally while lawfully committing a lawful act, it can be considered culpable homicide, not amounting to murder.
  5. Sudden Fight: Death occurring due to a sudden fight, without premeditation, can be categorised as culpable homicide.
  6. Unsound Mind(Mother): If a woman voluntarily causes the death of a child below 12 months due to an unsound and disturbed mind.

Suffering Abnormality of Mind: If death is caused by an act or omission by an offender who is suffering from an abnormality of the mind to know their acts may cause death or that their acts or omissions are wrong.

Legal Consequences Of Culpable Homicide Not Amounting To Murder

The penalties for a person who committed culpable homicide not amounting to murder is determined by the severity of the act.

  • Life Imprisonment: Culpable homicide not amounting to murder can result in a life imprisonment sentence.
  • Imprisonment: Imprisonment for a term that may extend for up to 30 years and can also be liable for fines and caning.
  • Caning: In some instances, caning can be an additional or alternative punishment.


Legal Consequences Of Murder

If a person is found guilty of having committed murder, their punishment is outlined in Section 302 of the Penal code. The penalty may range from the death penalty to life imprisonment and caning depending on the nature of the murder.

  • Death Penalty: Although culpable homicide not amounting to murder does not typically attract the death penalty, murder charges can result in this ultimate legal consequence.
  • Life Imprisonment: Murder that falls under certain definitions outlined in Section 300 can result in a life imprisonment sentence. This includes causing bodily injury that is likely to cause death, bodily injury that leads to death in ordinary course of nature, and acts that are imminently dangerous.
  • Caning: In some instances, caning can be an additional or alternative punishment.

The Appeals Process And How Sentences May Be Modified

After conviction, a defendant can appeal the sentence or verdict. The appeals process in Singapore is stringent and involves legal nuances that require expert navigation. During the appeal, sentences can be modified or reduced, but they may also be increased if the prosecution cross-appeals.

The appellate court’s decision is generally final, although in some cases, further appeals can be made to the Court of Appeal.


Causing Death That Does Not Qualify As Culpable Homicide Or Murder

Aside from culpable homicide and murder, certain acts that lead to the death of an individual have penalties outlined in section 304 of the Penal code. These acts do not necessarily have ill intent but more on negligence, or prevention of death through inaction.

Causing Death By Rash Or Negligent Act

Not all actions resulting in death are labelled under the umbrella of “culpable homicide” or “murder”. For instance, a death resulting from a rash or negligent act may fall under another section of the Penal Code. Here, the person responsible did not intend to cause death or bodily injury leading to death; rather, the death occurred due to recklessness or negligence.

While still a serious offence, this is distinct from culpable homicide and murder, and it doesn’t carry the same level of punishment as life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Causing The Death Of A Child Below 14 Years Of Age, Domestic Worker, Or Vulnerable Person By Sustained Abuse

In instances of sustained abuse leading to death, specific legal provisions apply. The death may not be the result of a single act but rather a series of acts amounting to abuse. The individuals involved could be children below 14 years of age, domestic workers, or vulnerable persons, and the law recognises the unique circumstances of these cases, separate from culpable homicide or murder.

Causing Or Allowing The Death Of A Child Below 14 Years Of Age, Domestic Worker, Or Vulnerable Person In The Same Household

In some cases, the act of causing death may not be direct but rather a failure to prevent the death of a vulnerable individual in the same household. This, too, is distinguished from culpable homicide and murder under Singapore law.


Conclusion On Culpable homicide In Singapore

Understanding the specifics of causing death in Singapore is crucial, especially the differences between murder and culpable homicide and situations that don’t fall under either category.

While murder often comes with the death penalty, culpable homicide not amounting to murder could lead to life imprisonment. Charges for causing bodily injury that results in death vary and may not always qualify as culpable homicide or murder.

Given the complexity and the severe penalties associated with charges like attempted murder or culpable homicide, it’s imperative to seek expert legal advice if you or someone you know is facing such accusations.

If you or someone you know is grappling with legal challenges related to causing death or bodily injury, don’t hesitate to engage with the Singapore Lawyer. Expert advice is just a phone call away. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation and get sound legal advice on what to do next.


Frequently Asked Questions About Culpable Homicide In Singapore

Is Culpable Homicide The Same As Attempted Murder?

No, culpable homicide is not the same as attempted murder. Attempted murder involves a clear intent to kill, whereas culpable homicide may not necessarily involve such intent.

What Is Sustained Abuse?

Sustained abuse refers to continuous mistreatment or violence over some time, often leading to severe harm or death.

How Are Causing Death Cases Investigated In Singapore?

Investigations into causing death cases are comprehensive, often involving forensic evidence, witness statements, and thorough legal procedures to determine the level of culpability.

What Role Does Bodily Injury Play In Determining A Charge Of Culpable Homicide?

Bodily injury is an important factor. If the accused intended to cause bodily injury that they knew was likely to result in death, and it does, then it may be considered culpable homicide, not amounting to murder.

Can A Person Be Charged With Both Murder And Culpable Homicide?

In Singapore, a person will generally be charged with either murder or culpable homicide, not both. The specific charge will depend on the intent and circumstances surrounding the act.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.