“Evidence is the key which a court requires to come down to a decision”. In any legal proceeding evidence is the primary way that makes it possible for the court by which the court can make implications to render a decision. Evidence is something, which serves to prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of a supposed fact.
Thus, based on these facts an accused can be convicted or acquitted. Evidence can be innumerable forms; the witness is yet considered prime evidence. Accomplice evidence is an unreliable and untrustworthy source, yet in most cases, it turns out to be a valuable source in proving the accused guilty or non-guilty. It is essential to understand an accomplice to understand how a case proceeds where there are limited or no sources of evidence.
Who is an Accomplice?
Let’s understand the meaning of accomplice with an illustration, If A, B, and C are robbing a bank where the only part C plays is to keep the car engine on and wait inside the car for A and B, to drive them back. Here C is an accomplice as he is participating in the commission of a crime.
A person who voluntarily and knowingly participates in the commission of a crime with the principal offender. The accomplice is present when the crime is taking place, he encourages or assists the principal offender. In other words, the term “accomplice” means, along with others or other anyone who has taken part in the committed crime. The word accomplice is not defined in the Indian evidence act.
Under the Indian evidence act, the term accomplice is described under section 133. Section 133 states:
A person is referred to as a trap-witness when the authorities compel them into participating in a crime to gather proof against others. The section includes trap witnesses as well.
In the case of Chandan v. emperor, the learned court defined the term accomplice. It was stated that the accomplice is the one involved with the offenders or offender in the commission of the crime. He or she voluntarily helps the offenders in the commission of a crime. Further, the court stated accomplice includes “particep crimins” (partner in crime).
Categories of Accomplices:
It was held by the court in the case of Jagnnath vs Emperor contribution to a crime could take place in several ways. Accomplice is categorized as follows:
Principal in the First Degree and second degree: A person who actively participates in the commotion of crime, active participant. A second-degree accomplice is a person who provokes, encourages, insights or abets the accused. In the case of Ismail v. Emperor, the court here held that a person is considered an accomplice under both the degrees first and the second degree.
Accessories before the fact: A person who before the occurrence of crime provokes, abets, insists, or encourages the accused in the commission of the crime. The person here is an accessory. To be an accomplice, the person needs to participate in the commission of the same crime as the accused.
Accessories after the fact: A person with the knowledge that the accused has committed a crime, who after the occurrence of the crime assists, aids, or helps in hiding the facts of the crime. Here the crime is completed.
For example, after killing his wife A asks B to hide the murder weapon.
When Accomplice becomes a competent witness:
When an accomplice is not a co-accused under trial in the same case, an accomplice is a competent witness.
Section 118 of the Indian evidence act deals with the competency of witnesses. The only necessity for competency is that the witness's age, the physical or mental condition should not prevent him from understanding the questions asked of him or from providing the thoughtful responses that are expected of him. Competency is a prerequisite for questioning a person as a witness.
In addition, Section 133 discusses the competence of accomplices. When an accomplice testifies, he should not be a co-accused who is being tried in the same case and is eligible to be sworn in.
A person who is an accomplice to a particular crime can provide evidence as a witness in a court, the judge here cross-checks the evidence and statements made by the accomplice. Statements presented by an accomplice should be relevant and related to the crime.
Is the accomplice witness trustworthy?
An accomplice being a participant of the crime helps in the commission of an offense it makes him an untrustworthy witness and has an immoral character.
The accomplice may lie in front of the court to get pardoned under Section 306 of the criminal procedure code; however, the court ensures that the accomplice witness shares information related to the case.
When an accomplice testifies, it is not considered reliable evidence for a conviction and must be corroborated by additional pieces of tangible evidence. Section 114 of the Indian evidence act deals with presumption, the evidence provided by an accomplice cannot be believed until it is corroborated.
Sections 114 and 133 are important because they both address the same subject matter. The court may presume that an accomplice is unworthy of any credit unless corroborated in material particulars, as per Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act.
A conviction of the accused based on the testimony of an accomplice is valid even if it is not corroborated in material particulars, according to Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act. An accomplice must be a competent witness against the accused.
In the case of R vs Baskerville (1916); the guiding rules were led down in accomplice evidence, it included, confirmation, as related to a material circumstance of the crime confirmation, must be independent. Confirmation must be in some material particulars.
It is necessary to cross-check the statements given by the accomplice, whether they are true or not. Once the court figures out that the accomplice is telling the truth they put an end to cross-checking.
There are two types of evidence that an accomplice provided:
Money mule an Accomplice:
A "mule" is a middleman who transports items or cash on behalf of a recompensed criminal. A mule may assist with delivery or smuggling in the drug trade. In credit card scams, a mule uses stolen credit cards to make purchases and then splits the money with the card thief. In all scenarios, mules often are aware that they are taking part in criminality.
A person who receives and transfers money from fraud victims is known as a money mule. Some money mules are aware that they are aiding in criminal activity, but some are not aware that what they are doing is aiding fraudsters.
Accomplice and Co-accused:
Co-Accused individuals are those who have been charged based on information from the other. The confession of a co-accused can be used against them as evidence in conspiracy trials, but generally, the testimony of the accused should not be taken into consideration because it is contaminated. After all, he was a co-conspirator in the conduct of the crime.
However, Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 states that a confession that has already been proven in court may have an impact on the individual or another party who was involved in the case.
The testimony of an accomplice, which is assigned a higher probative value since it is given under oath and is subject to cross-examination, is treated differently from the confession of a co-accused.
The confession of a co-accused is rarely admissible as "evidence", it can only be taken into account in connection with other evidence in the case and cannot be used as the sole foundation for a conviction. However, just because a conviction is based on the unreliable testimony of an accomplice does not make it unlawful.
Accomplice and Approver:
In the case of Haroor haji vs the state of Maharashtra 1968, the court here held that an approver to get a pardon may give false statements against the accused. Thus, corroboration is necessary.
The court provides the approver, an accomplice, a pardon under the condition that he reveals the entire facts of the case these should be true and not mislead the court.
Approver has been dealt with by Section 306 of the Criminal Procedure Code. He is known as an accomplice to whom the Court grants a pardon by Cr.P.C. As a result, an "accomplice" can be an "approver, “but not always.
An accomplice is granted a pardon under Section 306. Because the approver is somehow connected to or involved in the commission of the same crime, his testimony is viewed with great suspicion. However, if it is believed to be reliable, it may be crucial in securing a conviction.
Differences between a co-accused, an approver, and an accomplice:
Accomplice and Sexual Crimes:
A victim of an offense is not an accomplice. The same is true of unlawful offenses. However, a substantial body of case law has developed in all of these instances that regards complainant evidence fairly similarly to accomplice evidence. It is also a widely acknowledged legal notion that the requirement of corroboration for judicial reliance on the prosecutrix's testimony is not a legal requirement but rather a prudential guideline. It is incorrect and undesirable to examine the woman's or girl's testimony with a certain amount of skepticism, treating her as if she were an accomplice to the crime. Just one accomplice's testimony could support the testimony of another, therefore independent sources were required for corroboration. The direct proof that the accused has committed a crime does not necessarily have to be part of the corroboration. It is also sufficient to have only circumstantial proof of a connection to the crime.
Who is not an accomplice?
In the following situations, a person is not an accomplice.
The guiding concept for accomplice evidence is by interpreting Sections 114(b) and 133 together, which plainly and unambiguously establish the law. Although a conviction based on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice is not illegal or unlawful, this principle that the courts have developed states that it is risky to act on the evidence of an accomplice unless it is corroborated concerning material aspects to implicate the accused. Despite being fairly clear, this guiding principle frequently encounters challenges when put into practice. When applying this theory, various judges may have varying degrees of support for accomplice evidence, and so When a court determines that an accomplice's testimony might not be reliable, it is led by the set of regulations forth in Section 114, which states that a court may assume that an accomplice's testimony is unreliable unless it is corroborated by other independent sources of information. In the case of an accomplice's testimony, confirmation is required. The type and degree of accomplice evidence's corroboration will inevitably vary depending on the specifics of each case.