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Chapter: Modern Medical Toxicology: General Principles: Medicolegal Aspects of Poisoning

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Toxicology and the Criminal Law

The criminal law of India is codified in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

TOXICOLOGY AND THE CRIMINAL LAW

The criminal law of India is codified in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The former is the substantive law dealing with the definition of specific offences and the nature of punishment to be administered, while the latter is the procedural or adjective law dealing with the elaboration of judicial proceedings at various stages of enquiry and trial.

The following sections of the IPC deal directly or indirectly with offences involving poisons:

284

This section deals with negligent conduct in relation to poisons, and states, “Whoever does with any poisonous substance anyact in any manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any person, or knowingly or negligently omits to take such order with any poisonous substance in his possession as is sufficient to guard against any probable danger to human life from such poisonous substance, shall be punished with imprisonment (up to 6 months), or fine (up to Rs.1000), or both”.

The gist of this offence is culpable negligence with respect to poisonous substances. The fact that a person has the custody of any dangerous substance suffices itself to impose upon him the duty of being careful.

299:

This section deals with culpable homicide. It states, “Whoevercauses death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide”.

Such acts include the use of poisonous substances, apart from conventional weapons of assault.

 

300

The issue of murder is dealt with in this section which is very similar in definition to culpable homicide, but lays more emphasis on deliberate intention and premeditation.

The punishment for culpable homicide can be any term of imprisonment up to a maximum of life sentence, but that for murder can extend to the imposition of death penalty (capital punishment), the minimum sentence being life imprisonment.

However, poisoning homicides are among the most difficult to detect and bring to justice.

304-A

There are two sub-sections under section 304.* Sub-section A deals with death caused by a rash or negligent act and states, “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rashor negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment (up to 2 years), or fine, or both”.

Such acts of negligence can be with reference to the handling or storage of poisonous substances, apart from care-lessness in the use of a vehicle or machinery. For example, if a pharmacist leaves a cupboard containing toxic drugs unlocked leading to the death of a child who consumes any such drug out of curiosity, he will be held guilty under this section. It is interesting to note that in such a case, section 284 can also be applied.

324

This section deals with the causing of hurt by any dangerous weapon or means (including the use of a poisonous substance). It states, “Whoever voluntarily causes hurt by means of anyinstrument for shooting, stabbing, or cutting, or any instru-ment which when used as a weapon of offence is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any substance which is deleterious to the human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with imprisonment (up to 3 years), or fine, or both.”

326

This section deals with the causing of grievous hurt by any dangerous weapon or means (including the use of a poisonous substance). The wording of this section is very similar to that of section 324, except for the fact that the injury caused should be of any of the eight types mentioned under section 320, namely,

·              Emasculation.

·              Permanent privation of sight, or

·              Hearing, or

·              Any member or joint, or

·              The impairment of the power of any member or joint.

·              Permanent disfiguration of head or face.

·              Fracture or dislocation of any bone or tooth.

·              Any hurt which endangers life, or causes the sufferer to be in severe bodily pain, or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits for a minimum period of 20 days.

·              The punishment can be any term of imprisonment from 10 years to life imprisonment, and can also involve the imposition of a fine.

328

Like section 284, this section deals specifically with poisons. It states, “Whoever administers to any person any poison, or anystupefying, intoxicating, or unwholesome drug with intent to cause hurt to such person, shall be punished with imprisonment (up to 10 years), and shall also be liable to fine.”

 

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