Basdev v. State of Pepsu [1956 SC]

Appellant Basdev of the village of Harigarh is a retired military Jamadar. He is charged with the murder of a young boy named Maghar Singh, aged about 15 or 16. Both of them and others of the same village went to attend a wedding in another village. All of them went to the house of the bride to take the midday meal on 12th March, 1954. Some had settled down in their seats and some had not. The appellant asked Maghar Singh, the young boy to step aside a little so that he may occupy a convenient seat. But Maghar Singh did not move. The appellant whipped out a pistol and shot the boy in the abdomen. The injury proved fatal.

The party that had assembled for the marriage at the bride’s house seems to have made itself very merry and much drinking was indulged in. The appellant Jamadar boozed quite a lot and he became very drunk and intoxicated. The learned Sessions Judge says “he was excessively drunk” and that “according to the evidence of one witness Wazir Singh Lambardar he was almost in an unconscious condition”. This circumstance and the total absence of any motive or premeditation to kill were taken by the Sessions Judge into account and the appellant was awarded the lesser penalty of transportation for life.

An appeal to the PEPSU High Court at Patiala proved unsuccessful. Special leave was granted by this Court limited to the question whether the offence committed by the petitioner fell under Section 302 or Section 304 having regard to the provisions of Section 86.

It is no doubt true that while the first part of the section speaks of intent or knowledge, the latter part deals only with knowledge and a certain element of doubt in interpretation may possibly be felt by reason of this omission. If in voluntary drunkenness knowledge is to be presumed in the same manner as if there was no drunkenness, what about those cases where mens rea is required. Are we at liberty to place intent on the same footing, and if so, why has the section omitted intent in its latter part?

So far as knowledge is concerned, we must attribute to the intoxicated man the same knowledge as if he was quite sober. But so far as intent or intention is concerned, we must gather it from the attending general circumstances of the case paying due regard to the degree of intoxication. Was the man beside his mind altogether for the time being? If so it would not be possible to fix him with the requisite intention. But if he had not gone so deep in drinking, and from the facts it could be found that he knew what he was about, we can apply the rule that a man is presumed to intend the natural consequences of his act or acts.

Of course, we have to distinguish between motive, intention and knowledge. Motive is something which prompts a man to form an intention and knowledge is an awareness of the consequences of the act. In many cases intention and knowledge merge into each other and mean the same thing more or less and intention can be presumed from knowledge. The demarcating line between knowledge and intention is no doubt thin but it is not difficult to perceive that they connote different things.

In the old English case, Rex v. Meakin [(1836), nature of the instrument as an element was taken in presuming the intention:

However, with regard to the intention, drunkenness may perhaps be adverted to according to the nature of the instrument used. If a man uses a stick, you would not    infer a malicious intent so strongly against him, if drunk, when he made an        intemperate use of it, as he would if he had used a different kind of weapon; but             where a dangerous instrument is used, which, if used, must produce grievous bodily        harm, drunkenness can have no effect on the consideration of the malicious intent      of the party.

Drunkenness is ordinarily neither a defence nor excuse for crime, and where it is available as a partial answer to a charge, it rests on the prisoner to prove it, and it is not enough that he was excited or rendered more irritable, unless the intoxication was such as to prevent his restraining himself from committing the act in question, or to take away from him the power of forming any specific intention. Such a state of drunkenness may no doubt exist.

Court of Criminal Appeal in Rex v. Meade [1909] stated the rule as follows:

A man is taken to intend the natural consequences of his acts. This presumption may be rebutted (1) in the case of a sober man, in many ways: (2) it may also be rebutted in the case of a man who is drunk, by showing his mind to have been so affected by the drink he had taken that he was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was dangerous i.e. likely to inflict serious injury. If this be proved, the presumption that he intended to do grievous bodily harm is rebutted.

House of Lord’s decision in Director of Public Prosecutions v. Beard [1920]:

In this case a prisoner ravished a girl of 13 years of age, and in aid of the act of rape he placed his hand upon her mouth to stop her from screaming, at the same time pressing his thumb upon her throat with the result that she died of suffocation. Drunkenness was pleaded as a defence. Their Lordships laid down three rules:

(1) Insanity, whether produced by drunkenness or otherwise, is a defence to the crime charged;

(2) Evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into consideration with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent;

(3) Evidence of drunkenness falling short of a proved incapacity in the accused to form the intent necessary to constitute the crime, and merely establishing that his mind was affected by drink so that he more readily gave way to some violent passion, does not rebut the presumption that a man intends the natural consequences of his acts.

The result of the authorities is summarised neatly and compendiously in Russell on Crime in the following words:

In cases falling short of insanity evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into consideration with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent, but evidence of drunkenness which falls short of proving such incapacity and merely establishes that the mind of the accused was so affected by drink that he more readily gave way to some violent passion does not rebut the presumption that a man  intends the natural consequences of his act.

In the present case the learned Judges have found that although the accused was under the influence of drink, he was not so much under its influence that his mind was so obscured by the drink that there was incapacity in him to form the required intention as stated. They go on to observe:

All that the evidence shows at the most is that at times he staggered and was incoherent in his talk, but the same evidence shows that he was also capable of moving himself independently and talking coherently as well. At the same time it is proved that he came to the darwaza of Natha Singh PW 12 by himself, that he made a choice for his own seat and that is why he asked the deceased to move away from his place, that after shooting at the deceased he did attempt to get away and was secured at some short distance from the darwaza, and that when secured he realised what he had done and thus requested the witnesses to be forgiven saying that it had happened from him. There is no evidence that when taken to the police station Barnala, he did not talk or go there just as the witnesses and had to be specially supported. All these facts, in my opinion, go to prove that there was not proved incapacity in the accused to form the intention to cause bodily injury sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. The accused had, therefore, failed to prove such incapacity as would have been available to him as a defence, and so the law presumes that he intended the natural and probable consequences of his act, in other words, that he intended to inflict bodily injury to the deceased and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted was sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

On this finding the offence is not reduced from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the second part of Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.