Accomplice Evidence in Sexual Offenses

The present article is written by Muskan Harlalka, a 2nd-year law student from the School of Law, Mody University of Science and Technology, Lakshmangarh, Rajasthan.

INTRODUCTION

An accomplice is a person who intentionally and voluntarily aids another person in committing a crime and thus ends up becoming equally guilty for the crime. 

The Indian Evidence Act 1872 deals with evidence from an accomplice, but the Act does not define the word ‘accomplice’. The judiciary has tried to define this word in various cases. In RK Dalmia v. Delhi Admin, the Apex Court said that a person who participates in the committing of the crime with which the accused is charged is an accomplice.

However, there are two cases in which a person can be regarded as an accomplice even when he is not a partner in crime. In cases where the person has received stolen property, he is considered to be the accomplice of the thieves who have stolen the property. Also, accomplices in previous similar offences are taken to be accomplice in the offence for which the accused is on trial if the evidence of the accused having committed crimes of similar nature on previous occasions is admissible to prove the intent of the accused in the offence charged.

An accomplice becomes an ‘approver’ when he becomes a prosecution witness and is granted pardon under Section 306 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). 

CATEGORIES OF ACCOMPLICE

For a person to be regarded as an accomplice, he has to be a particeps criminis, i.e., a partner in crime. The modes of participating in a crime can be divided into two broad categories. These categories are:-

  1. The principal offender of first degree or second degree: A principal offender of first degree commits the crime whereas a person who is present at the time of the commission of the crime and aids or abets the commission of the crime is a principal offender of the second degree. 
  2. Accessories before the fact or accessories after the fact
  1. Accessories before the fact: An accessory before the fact is someone who incites, abets, counsels or encourages the commission of a crime but himself does not participate in its commission.
  2. Accessories after the fact: An accessory after the fact is someone who, being aware of the fact that a person has committed a crime, receives or comforts or protects that person and assists him in escaping arrest or punishment. 

EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF THE ACCOMPLICE’S EVIDENCE

Section 133 and illustration (b) of Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 talk about the evidentiary value of the evidence given by an accomplice. As per Section 133 of the Act, an accomplice is a competent witness and a conviction based on his testimony will not be illegal merely because the testimony of the accomplice is uncorroborated. On the other hand, according to illustration (b) of Section 114, the testimony of the accomplice will not be considered credible unless verified in material particulars. 

Though it may seem so, there is no contradiction between the two provisions. Section 133 enables the judiciary to convict the accused based on the uncorroborated testimony of the accomplice. However, as the accomplice himself is a participant in the crime, his testimony may not always be reliable. Thus illustration (b) of Section 114 provides that if necessary, the court can presume the testimony to be unreliable unless it gets verified by some independent evidence.  

ACCOMPLICE EVIDENCE IN SEXUAL OFFENCES

Corroboration is the common point between an accomplice and the prosecutrix of a sexual offense because the evidence was given by a prosecutrix also requires corroboration like that of an accomplice. However, the evidence of the prosecutrix is different. Her evidence is equivalent to the evidence of an injured person. She is not an accomplice, but a competent witness.

In Rameshwar Kalyan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court stated that, in case of rape, the prosecutrix cannot be treated as an accomplice. The Indian Evidence Act does not state that the evidence by a prosecutrix in cases of sexual offence needs to be corroborated but the judiciary insists on the need for corroboration as a matter of practice. The corroborative evidence should be such as to ensure that the evidence of the prosecutrix will be lawfully acted upon. However, it was felt that it would be impossible and dangerous to state or declare what kind of evidence can be regarded as corroboration. 

The nature of corroborative evidence varies from case to case, but the Court has given some guidelines in this regard. These guidelines are as discussed below:

  1. There must be some additional evidence that can ensure that the testimony of the accomplice is true and it is safe to act upon the testimony.
  2. The independent evidence must be able to establish a connection with the accused by confirming the testimony of the complainant or the accomplice that the accused committed the crime. 
  3. Ordinarily, the testimony of one accomplice cannot act as a corroborative evidence for another accomplice. In other words, it can be said that the source of the corroborative evidence must be independent. But if the circumstances are such as to make it safe to depend on the testimony of one accomplice for corroboration of another accomplice’s testimony, then a conviction on such basis will not be illegal.
  4. The corroborative evidence does not need to be direct so as to prove that the accused committed the crime. Mere circumstantial evidence that connects the accused with the crime is sufficient.

In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Sheodayal Gurudayal, the Court laid down a test to determine the necessity of corroboration of the testimony of the prosecutrix. The test is based on the authenticity of the declaration given by the prosecutrix. If the testimony of the prosecutrix appears to be genuine then there is no need for corroboration. However, if any part of the testimony appears to be artificial or exaggerated, corroboration will be needed. It is to be noted that these principles are not rigid and are to be viewed as guiding principles in cases related to sexual offences.

CONCLUSION

It is true that sexual offenses cause great suffering and humiliation to the victim, but at the same time, a false allegation can cause equal distress and humiliation to the accused and ruin his life. Thus, protecting an accused person from a false implication is equally important. The guiding principle for accomplice evidence that is followed in India is that although it is not illegal to convict an accused based on the uncorroborated evidence by an accomplice, it is unsafe as per the rules of prudence. This guiding principle, though clear, is subjective in nature because different judges might have different levels of corroboration and given the lack of any strict rules relating to the extent of corroboration, this subjectiveness can lead to injustice.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Accomplice, Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nov. 10, 2011), https://www.britannica.com/topic/accomplice.
  2. Accomplice, Law of Evidence, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.lkouniv.ac.in/site/writereaddata/siteContent/2020051221156635Richa-Paper%2520of%2520Evidence.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwito8Sbt5zxAhWRb30KHTx5CxwQFjAAegQlAxAC&usg=AOvVaw2ikXfB3LX9x3AWN3yd5DZg.
  3. Devika Sharma, ALL HC | “A woman or a girl who is raped is not an accomplice”: HC re-establishes while explaining the significance of testimony of rape victim, SCC Online (Jan. 25, 2021), https://www.scconline.com/blog/?p=242805. 
  4. Gauri Agrawal, Authenticity of Accomplice Evidence, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Authenticity-of-Accomplice-Evidence.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjB0PmPpZzxAhWlYisKHZWHBO4QFjARegQlHRAC&usg=AOvVaw1-xnmKrST7CCl7CG0ym8ox.
  5. Javaid Talib, Md. Ashraf, Law of Evidence – II, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://old.amu.ac.in/emp/studym/99996405.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwito8Sbt5zxAhWRb30KHTx5CxwQFjACegQlCBAC&usg=AOvVaw1QXGjYGS-mdKeu_399vBAj&cshid=1623856092398.
  6. Sole evidence of sexual offence victim is enough for conviction: Supreme Court, The Hindu (Oct. 22, 2020), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sole-evidence-of-sexual-offence-victim-is-enough-for-conviction-supreme-court/article32922041.ece. 

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