Posted on 9/19/16

A conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of an accomplice unless corroborated by other evidence tending to connect the defendant with the offense committed; the corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense.

Origins of the Rule

Texas law requires corroboration of accomplice testimony before conviction because the legislature was concerned about the reliability of such testimony. The concern is that the accomplice has been caught and he may testify falsely just to avoid a harsh prison sentence. Similarly, there is a concern that an accomplice will use the testimony to shift all the blame to the other defendants.

Accomplice Defined

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals defined “accomplice” as “a person who participates in the offense before, during, or after its commission with the requisite mental state.” In a different case, the court explained that the mere presence at the crime scene will not make a person an accomplice, nor will being aware of the crime and failing to disclose it, even if that witness intentionally conceals the crime. “An accomplice must have engaged in an affirmative act that promotes the commission of the offense that the accused committed

To illustrate, the prosecution charges a defendant with the crime of drug possession. To avoid trial and possible jail sentence, the defendant cuts a deal with the prosecutor to testify against his co-defendants. In that instance, the cooperating witness’s testimony is not sufficient to convict the other co-defendants absent other evidence tying the other defendants to the crime. Such evidence need not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; rather, it is sufficient to link the accused to the crime. That link need not be direct; it is sufficient that the corroborating evidence tends to show the defendant’s guilt. Examples can be fingerprints on the bottle holding the drugs or a phone message.

Nature of an Accomplice Witness

An accomplice witness is someone who has participated with another before, during, or after commission of a crime. Such an individual must be able to be prosecuted for the same offense that the defendant is accused traditionally or as a party.

Practical Use

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals articulated how to use corroborating evidence together with an accomplice witness: “The test as to the sufficiency of the corroboration is to eliminate from consideration the evidence of the accomplice witness and then to examine the evidence of other witnesses with the view to ascertain if there be inculpatory evidence, that is evidence of incriminating character which tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the offense. If there is such evidence, the corroboration is sufficient; otherwise it is not.”

If you are facing criminal prosecution in the Dallas area, you need an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in Texas criminal procedure. Contact the law firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense lawyer.

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