Accomplice Witness An accomplice means a person who has taken part in the commission of a crime. In the case of R. K Dalmia v. Delhi Administration that “an accomplice is a person who participates in the commission of the actual crime charged against an accused. He is to be a particeps criminis. ” Accomplice evidence might seem untrustworthy as accomplices are usually always interested and infamous witnesses but their evidence is admitted owing to necessity as it is often impossible without having recourse to such evidence to bring the principal offenders to justice.
Thus accomplice evidence might seem unreliable but it is often a very useful and even invaluable tool in crime detection, crime solving and delivering justice and consequently a very important part of the Law of Evidence. Categories of Accomplice: 1. Principal offender of First Degree and Second Degree: The principal offender of first degree is a person who actually commits the crime. The principal offender of the second degree is a person who either abets or aids the commission of the crime. . Accessories before the fact: They are the person who abet, incite, procure, or counsel for the commission of a crime and they do not themselves participate in the commission of the crime. 3. Accessories after the fact: They are the persons who receive or comfort or protect persons who have committed the crime knowing that they have committed the crime Competency of Accomplice as Witness: An accomplice is a competent witness provided he is not a co accused under trial in the same case.
But such competency which has been conferred on him by a process of law does not divest him of the character of an accused. An accomplice by accepting a pardon under Section 306 CrPC becomes a competent witness and may as any other witnesses be examined on oath; the prosecution must be withdrawn and the accused formally discharged under Section 321 CrPC before he can become a competent witness. Even if there is an omission to record discharge an accused becomes a competent witness on withdrawal of prosecution.
Under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India, 1950 no accused shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. But as an accomplice accepts a pardon of his free will on condition of a true disclosure, in his own interest and is not compelled to give self-incriminating evidence the law in Sections 306 and 308, Code of Criminal Procedure is not affected. So a pardoned accused is bound to make a full disclosure and on his failure to do so he may be tried of the offence originally charged and his statement may be used against him under Section 308.
Section 133 of the Evidence Act says that “An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. ” Section 114 Illustration B says that “The court may presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars. ” The apparent contradiction between these two should be harmoniously interpreted.
Section 133 is a clear authorisation to the courts to convict on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, but since such a witness, being a criminal himself, may not always be trustworthy, the courts are guided by illustration to section 114 that, if it is necessary the court should presume that he is unreliable unless his statements are supported or verified by some independent witness. J. Chandrachud in Dagdu v. State of Maharashtra says that “There is no. antithesis between s. 133 and illustration (b) to s. 114 of the Evidence Act, because the illustration only says that the Court ‘may’ presume a certain state of affairs.
It does not seek to raise a conclusive and irre- butable presumption. Reading the two together the position which emerges is that though an accomplice is a competent witness and though a conviction may lawfully rest upon his uncorroborated testimony, yet the Court is entitled to presume and may indeed be justified in presuming in the generality of cases that no reliance can be placed on the evidence of an accomplice unless that evidence is corrobo- rated in material particulars, by which is meant that there has to be some independent evidence tending to incriminate, the particular accused in the commission of the crime.
It is hazardous, as a matter of prudence, to proceed. upon the evidence of a self confessed criminal, who, in so far as an approver is concerned, has to testify in terms of the pardon tendered to him. The risk involved in convicting an accused on the testimony of an accomplice, unless it is corroborated in material particulars, is so real and potent that what during the early development of law was felt to be a matter of prudence has been elevated by judicial experience into a requirement or rule of law.
All the same, it is necessary to understand that what has hardened into a rule of law is not that the conviction is illegal if it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice but that the rule of corroboration must be present to the mind of the Judge and that corroboration may be dispensed with only it the peculiar circumstances of a case make it safe to dispense with it. ” Some propositions have been made by Courts in this regard: 1.
Courts have opined that such competency, which has been conferred on him by a process of law, does not divest him of the character of an accused and he remains a participes criminis . 2. an accomplice by accepting a pardon under Section 306 CrPC becomes a competent witness and may as any other witness be examined on oath, the prosecution must be withdrawn and the accused formally discharged under Section 321 of the Criminal Code before he would be a competent witness but even if there is omission to record discharge, an accused is vested with competency as soon as the prosecution is withdrawn. . Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution says that no accused shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. But as a co-accused accepts a pardon of his free will on condition of a true disclosure, in his own interest, and is not compelled to give self-incriminating evidence, the law in Section 306 and 308 of CrPC is not affected and a pardoned accused is bound to make a full disclosure and on his failure to do so he may be tried of the offence originally charged and is statement may be used against him under Section 308. In order to be an accomplice a person must participate in the commission of the same crime as the accused and this he may do in various ways. In India all accessories before the fact if the participate in the preparation for the crime are accomplices but if their participation is limited to the knowledge that crime is to be committed they are not accomplices. However opinion is divided as to whether accessories after the fact are accomplices or not.
In some cases it has been held that in India there is no such thing as an accessory after the fact whereas in some cases accessories after the fact have been held to be accomplices. Three conditions must unite to render one an accessory after the fact: * The felony must be complete * The accessory must have knowledge that the principal committed the felony * The accessory must harbour or assist the principal felon.
Hence, in conclusion, the rule which according to the cases has hardened into one of law is not that corroboration is essential before there can be a conviction but that the necessity of corroboration, as a matter of prudence, except where the circumstances make it safe to dispense with it, must be present to the mind of the judge and in jury cases must find place in the charge before a conviction without corroboration can be sustained. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. AIR 1962 SC 1821. [ 2 ]. AIR 1977 SC 1579