Can an individual be punished twice for the same crime?

No, the constitution of India in Article 20(2) has the principles of “autrefois convict” or Double jeopardy which means that person must not be punished twice for the offence. Thus, you cannot be tried and punished for the same crime twice. The law of the land is that there cannot be second trial for punishing an offence for which he or she has already been prosecuted or convicted earlier.

The word Jeopardy refers to the “danger” of conviction that an accused person is subjected to when one trial for a criminal offence. However, if it happens twice, it becomes double jeopardy and that is what is unconstitutional i.e. if a person is prosecuted or convicted ones cannot be punished again for that criminal act. The person gets the defense of Double Jeopardy if he is tried for the same offence in the court.

Provisions regarding double jeopardy in India

Even before the constitution of India was framed and passed after independence, the Double Jeopardy principle existed in the country in the form of section 26 which states that provision as to offences punishable under two or more enactments where an act or omission constitutes an offence under two or more enactments, then the offender shall be liable to be prosecuted or punished under either or any of those enactments. However, the law clarified that he shall not be liable to be punished twice for the same offence.

Later on the Constitution of India also incorporated the maxim of Double Jeopardy under Article 20(2) and considered it as one of fundamental rights. As most of the fundamental rights have been borrowed from the US Constitution, the concept of Double Jeopardy also came from them. In the US Constitution the principle of Double Jeopardy was brought in by the Fifth Amendment, which says that “no person shall be twice put in Jeopardy of life or limb.” In similar language, the article 20(2) says that “no person shall be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once.”

Case laws on double jeopardy

The first case involving the issue came in 1954 wherein the Supreme Court of India hearing the S.A. Venkataraman vs The Union Of India And Another observed that the scope and meaning of the guarantee implied in Article 20(2) of the Constitution has been indicated with sufficient fullness in the pronouncement of this court in Maqbool Hussain vs the State of Bombay. The judges observed that the roots of the principle, which this clause enacts, are to be found in the well established rule of English law which finds expression in the maxim “Nemo debet bis vexari”-a man must not be put twice in peril for the same offence.

The court cited various cases and laws in practice in the US and the UK to give weight to the provision in India.

Interestingly, in Leo Roy v. Superintendent District Jail the Supreme Court of India held that it has to be marked that the defense of Double Jeopardy under Article 20 (2) will applicable only where punishment is for the same offence and if the offences are distinct the rule of Double Jeopardy will not apply. The court had observed that where a person was prosecuted and punished under sea customs act, but, later on prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, the second prosecution was not barred by the principle of Double Jeopardy. It was alright for the court to try the accused for the offense as it was not the same offense.

No one may be put in peril twice for the same offence

From the above cases, it is pretty clear that the rule against Double Jeopardy is that no one may be put in peril twice for the same offence. The principle emanates from Natural Justice System for the protection of integrity of the Criminal Justice System wherein the maxim audi altermn partum rule i.e. a person cannot be punished twice for the same offence is kept at higher pedestal. However, there are some restrictions too in the Indian laws related to Double Jeopardy which must be kept in mind.

For instance, in the State of Bombay v. S.L. Apte and another Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court while dealing with the issue of double jeopardy under Article 20(2), had held that to operate as a bar the second prosecution and the consequential punishment there under, must be for “the same offence”. The bench made it clear that the crucial requirement therefore for attracting the Article was that the offences are the same i.e. they should be identical. In situation the two offences are distinct, then notwithstanding that the allegations of facts in the two complaints might be substantially similar, the benefit of the ban cannot be invoked.