This article is written by Gurpreet Singh, a student at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. The article aims to explore the principle of autrefois convict & acquit and its applicability in the Indian context.
Take a trip back to your childhood and imagine being scolded by your mom and your dad for a single mistake of shattering a beloved household commodity. How would that make you feel for getting punished for a single mistake twice? Now fast forward to the present and think about what if a person is convicted or acquitted for a crime and is once again being put on trial for the same offence. The legal systems around the world protect individuals against such injustice. This article aims to explore the principles behind this protection regarding the Indian Constitution and Criminal procedure Code.
Meaning of Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict
Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict are french terms meaning “previously acquitted” and “previously convicted” respectively. These terms owe their birth to the common law systems where they have been accepted as doctrines that govern criminal trials Autrefois Acquit refers to that a person cannot be put on a trial for an offence, he has been previously acquitted for, similarly, Autrefois Convict refers to that a person cannot be put on trial for the same offence, he has been previously convicted for. The combination of both the doctrines gave birth to the Rule against double jeopardy. This Rule refers to that a person cannot be tried for the same offence again if previously he has been either convicted or acquitted.
Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict concerning Indian Constitution
The Indian Constitution only imbibes the doctrine of Autrefois convict and not of Autrefois Acquit in the form of the rule against double jeopardy. Article 20 of the Indian Constitution protects in respect of conviction of offences. Article 20(2) contains the rule against double jeopardy which enumerates that no person shall be convicted for the same offence more than once. Article 20(2) has been adopted from the fifth amendment of the US Constitution but doesn’t incorporate the principle of autrefois acquit as incorporated by the US Constitution that can be inferred from the content of the amendment which states that no person shall be put in jeopardy of life and limb twice, On the other hand, Article 20(2) offers protection only when the accused has been prosecuted and has also been punished.
In Venkataraman v. Union of India, an inquiry was held before an inquiry commissioner in respect of the appellant under the Public Service Enquiry Act, 1960 and was dismissed in respect of the findings, Later the appellant was charged under the Indian Penal Code & Prevention of Corruption Act. The Court in its wisdom held that the proceedings under inquiry commissioner were only an inquiry and hence the prosecution under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act would not be barred by the plea of double jeopardy.
In Leo Roy v. Superintendent District Jail it was held by the court that if the offences are different, the plea of double jeopardy would be barred as in this case prosecution and conviction took place under the sea customs Act and later the appellant was prosecuted under Indian Penal Code. The second prosecution would not be barred by the plea of double jeopardy.
Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict in relation to CrPC
Article 20(2) imbibes the principle of autrefois convict, On the other hand, the Code of Criminal procedure (CrPC) inculcates the principle of autrefois convict as well as autrefois acquit. It has a wider reach under criminal jurisprudence whereas Article 20 inculcates the general outline of the rule against double jeopardy. Section 300 is analyzed as follows:
→ 300(1)– According to this clause a person should not be tried for the same offence twice.
Essentials requirements for this clause to kick in are-
- There should be an acquittal or conviction.
- The trial should have taken place under a court of competent jurisdiction.
- The 2 offences alleged should be either similar or identical.
- If more than one offence is made out of given facts, a conviction in the offence will act as a 5)bar against trial for other offences arising out of the same set of facts.
→300(2) – According to this clause when a person is convicted or acquitted of an offence and a distinct charge could be made against such person but was not made during the trial, He /she cannot be prosecuted for the same. This provision protects against the abuse of the criminal justice system by not allowing the prosecution to build continuous charges against people. For example, 2 persons decided to commit robbery, In the process of committing murder they commit murder as well and the criminal administration can misuse the system by separately trying the two persons for separate offences which can result in indefinite incarceration of the persons.
→300(3)-This clause lays down a situation in which a person can be retried for an offence that arises from the same facts but the nature of the offence is different. For Example, A beats up a B and is caught and charged for Grevious hurt, During trial B dies in hospital due to injuries, A can be retried for the offence of Murder. This clause applies only in cases of conviction.
→300(4)– This clause is in the continuity of the previous clause as this clause envisages a situation in which due to the discovery of new facts, the person cannot be tried in the same court due to lack of jurisdiction. The person can be retried in another court of competent jurisdiction.
→300(5)– This clause extends the protection against double jeopardy to the cases of discharge. Discharge takes place when the court hears the prosecution and believes that there are no grounds available to prosecute the accused due to a lack of evidence as it will save the precious time of the court. The power of discharge can be exercised in the summons, warrants, and sessions case. However, 300(5) is restricted to discharge in a summons case. In case a person has been discharged in a summons case after trial, The accused cannot be prosecuted for the same offence.
Res judicata and protection against double jeopardy
Res judicata or the rule of issue estoppel precludes evidence to be led in proving a fact in issue with regards to which evidence has already been led and specific findings recorded at an earlier criminal trial before a court of competent jurisdiction. The rule only relates to the admissibility of evidence. If by adducing evidence it is proved that the same point was determined in favour of a prisoner in a previous criminal trial which is in issue in the second trial of the same accused, There is an issue estoppel. Article 20(2) bars double punishment, on the other hand, the Rule of issue estoppel bars reception of evidence on an issue on which the finding was in favour of the accused in the previous trial. Article 20(2) has no relation to the question at issue, while the rule of issue estoppel relates to the issue of evidence on the question in issue at the two trials.
In Pritam Singh v. State of Punjab, A statement made by an accused led to a recovery of a Firearm which was allegedly a crime weapon used by the accused. He was prosecuted for the possession of the firearm, acquitted later. In the trial of murder against the same accused, evidence concerning the possession of was firearm was pleaded before the court. The court held that the evidence was precluded by the rule of issue estoppel.
Landmark judgments Concerning Article 20(2) and section 300 CrPC
1. Maqbool Hussain v. the State of Bombay – In this case, the appellant, a citizen of India brought some gold without a declaration. The Sea Customs authority took action and the gold was confiscated. Then the appellant was prosecuted under the Foreign exchange Regulation Act, 1947 consequently plea of double jeopardy was raised by the appellant, which was rejected by the court by stating that Sea customs authority was not a Court or Judicial Tribunal and the proceedings before it did not constitute prosecution as mandated by the rule against double jeopardy. The Prosecution under Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, was the first prosecution and not barred by Article 20(2).
2. Kalawati v. the State H.P – In this case, the appellant was accused of committing murder and was prosecuted, later acquitted by the district judge. The State appealed against the decision. The defendants took the plea of double jeopardy. The Court held that the appeal against acquittal cannot be considered to be the second prosecution, but the continuation of original prosecution, Therefore the rule against double jeopardy will not play a role in this situation.
3. Thomas Dana v. the State of Punjab – In this case, it was held by the Apex Court that to claim the protection of the rule against double jeopardy enumerated under Article 20(2), it is necessary to show that there was a previous prosecution and that the prosecution led to punishment and the accused is being punished for the same offence again.
4. Baij Nath v. the State of Bhopal – In this case, the accused was a government servant prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code and punished, In an appeal in the High Court the prosecution was set aside for lack of sanction. Subsequently, the accused was again prosecuted with a valid sanction. The court held that the earlier prosecution was null and void and the subsequent prosecution cannot be challenged on the grounds of double jeopardy.
5. Kolla Veera Raghav Rao v.Gorantla Venkateswara Rao.- In this case, the difference between Article 20(2) and Section 300 CrPC was discussed and was held that Section 300 CrPC is wider in the sense that no one can be tried and convicted for the same offence or a different offence on the same facts. Article 20(2) leaves a doubt in the minds as to whether a person can be prosecuted for the same offence on different facts, the section makes it amply clear that as long as facts are the same, the person cannot be prosecuted at all.
6. Institute of Chartered accountants v. Vimal Surana – In this case, a gentleman was found to be impersonating a chartered accountant and entering into agreements with people. He was prosecuted under Section 24 and 26 of the chartered accountant’s act. He was also liable to be prosecuted to be under Sections 419 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court held that a person can be convicted for the same actions under different acts as apply to the offences. The Court recognized the inequality if someone who had committed an offence similar to the sections under IPC but could also fall under the law in another act with lesser punishment.
From the above discussions, it is evident that the principles of autrefois acquit and convict are necessary to uphold the spirit of the law. Once a person is acquitted or convicted of an offence, no one has the right to traduce the impunity provided by law. The spirit of the law is maintained in a legal system that promotes certainty, stability, and equity. The principle of autrefois convict and acquit provides certainty by providing that once a person has been convicted or acquitted, he/she will not be troubled by the criminal justice system, It promotes stability by not wasting the precious time of the court by prosecuting the already prosecuted persons and promotes equality by not troubling persons already being punished for the offences once committed.
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