Is it possible to feel sorry for an offender? Many people felt that the recent conviction of Marion Jones, American athlete, recently sentenced by a US District Judge for lying about steroid use and involvement in a fraud case was justified, whereas others felt that she had already been punished enough. After all, argued her sympathizers, she had been stripped of her medals and her name expunged from the record books. There were no victims of her crime, unless you think of the sportspersons, who came second, or of the general public, or of the reputation of sports in general that suffered damage. Even if people felt sorry for her, there were no clear-cut victims of her crime who could come out and say, we forgive you. There may however be cases where the victim feels sorry for the perpetrator of a crime and wishes to forgive. What happens in such cases, and what should happen?
Ordinarily, when you file a report with the police with respect to a crime, you will want the police to investigate the case and bring the criminals to justice. If you happen to be the person giving information about a crime as well as the 'victim' of the crime you will, still more, want that the culprits be brought to justice and punished for the crime.
However sometimes it happens that after the FIR has been registered and the police has arrested the offender, the victim changes his mind and actually start feeling sorry for the perpetrator of the offence. Could he or she then ask the police or the Court to drop the proceedings and let the offender go?
In modern as well as ancient criminal jurisprudence, crimes are committed both against individuals as well as society at large. However certain crimes are considered to be committed more against the individual, particularly if these are not very serious. In the case of some of these offences, the victim of the crime has the power under the Criminal Procedure Code to 'compound' the offence. In other words he can ask that the Court drop further criminal proceedings against the accused person.
In the case of crimes that are regarded more as offences against society as a whole, the individual victim cannot have the offence compounded. Take the case of a robber who breaks into your house at night and decamps with all your valuables. On your complaint the police register an FIR and investigate the case. As a result of their investigations the burglar is detected and arrested. The burglar is now suffering remorse for having stolen your property and begs forgiveness from you. He turns out to be a distant relative. Could you accept his offer and compound the offence (in the unlikely event that you were so inclined)? You cannot, because the robbery constitutes an offence against society as a whole.
Crimes where it is legally possible to have further prosecution dropped at the behest of the individual are referred to as compoundable offences. The vast majority of offences are however not compoundable. Thus out of several hundred offences listed in the Indian Penal Code barely sixty are compoundable.
There are two categories of compoundable offences. In the first category the victim can generally ask for Court proceedings be dropped against an accused person without the permission of the Court being necessary. In other words, the Court cannot refuse to have the offence 'compounded'. In the second category of compoundable offences, the Court can refuse to have the offence compounded.
Thus, even when offences are compoundable, most of them require the permission of the Court before they can be compounded.
If you cause someone simple hurt (Section 323, IPC) the offence can be compounded without the permission of the Court. On the other hand if you have a major fight in which you sustain severe injuries, but nonetheless later on forgive the aggressor, the permission of the Court will be required before the offence (of causing grievous hurt under Section 325, IPC) can be compounded.
You could be accused of having committed several crimes as a result of a single action on your part. Thus if a person happens to be driving his Maruti too fast and hits a passers-by causing him severe injuries, he would in all probability be charged by the police of having committed two separate offences. Firstly, he would be charged with having committed the offence of having caused grievous hurt to a person (S 325, IPC). Secondly, he would be charged with having committed an offence under Section 279of the Indian Penal Code of driving negligently so as to endanger human life.
Now Section 325 is a compoundable offence, but S 279 is not. This means that the victim could request the Court (if he thought fit to do so) that prosecution under S 325 be dropped. However Section 279 being non-compoundable, the prosecution on that account would continue.
Generally speaking all the major offences such as murder, rape, robbery etc are non compoundable. However some serious offences connected with the institution of marriage are compoundable. Again causing hurt by means of a dangerous weapon is a fairly serious offence, but is nevertheless compoundable.
The following are illustrations of offences compoundable without the permission of the Court being necessary:
- Again, criminal trespass or house trespass are offences under Sections 447 and 448 of the IPC. These can be compounded by the person in possession of the property trespassed upon.
- Adultery is an offence committed by a man if he has sexual intercourse with a married woman, who is not his wife. It is a fairly serious offence being punishable with up to five years imprisonment, but is compoundable by the husband of the woman!