In Law, what is an Approver?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An approver is someone who is involved with a crime, but who confesses and offers to serve as a witness for the prosecution. In exchange for the confession and testimony, the approver is given a pardon for his or her role in the crime. Allowing people to confess in exchange for concessions such as a pardon encourages people with information about crimes they were involved in to come forward, facilitating law enforcement investigations and increasing the likelihood that a case can be successfully prosecuted and brought to a close.

An approver might be granted a pardon for a crime in exchange for his testimony against others.
An approver might be granted a pardon for a crime in exchange for his testimony against others.

Technically, an approver is an accomplice. She or he did not commit the crime, but was involved in the planning, execution, or coverup of the crime. The accomplice may have known that the crime was going to happen and not taken any steps to prevent it, or may have engaged in other activities which were designed to make the crime easier to commit or less likely to be detected. This gives the approver a rather unique insight on the crime, as he or she was directly involved.

An approver can approach the police with information at any point during a criminal investigation. In justice systems where people who confess are not automatically granted pardons for fingering others involved in the crime, however, it is usually beneficial to come forward as early as possible. Providing information at the early stages of the investigation makes the process easier for investigators, improves the chances of collecting material evidence which might otherwise be destroyed, and suggests to the court that the approver experienced genuine contrition about the crime.

After the approver has provided information and it is deemed valuable, an agreement will be made in which the approver testifies in court about the crime and he or she is granted a pardon in exchange. This means that the approver cannot be prosecuted for involvement in the crime. In some regions, this is controversial, as victims of a crime or their survivors may argue that the accomplice should be penalized as well.

Someone who wants to come forward about a crime should consult a lawyer. The lawyer can help to negotiate a surrender deal with law enforcement and can provide advice and information which can be used to reach a favorable agreement. Criminal lawyers with experience in these types of matters are usually the best choice for representation for someone who intends to confess and name accomplices in an attempt to get a pardon or reduced sentence.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Bonij - I disagree somewhat. If the legal system doesn't offer a pardon when the approver steps forward and confesses his part in the crime and agrees to testify, it might be difficult and time consuming to prosecute the person who committed the serious crime.

I don't know how many accomplices would come forward if they thought they would have to go to jail for even a short period of time.

It's one of those points of law that is "iffy", it's hard to know what is best. Our legal system isn't perfect.


I'm not so sure I agree with the policy of granting a pardon to an approver for confessing to their part in a crime in exchange for their testimony in court.

If the approver just had a very minor part in the crime, like some knowledge of the crime in the planning stages - maybe a pardon would be the right thing to do.

But if they had a larger part - like being there and taking some action in the crime - say murder, they should get a lesser sentence if they testify.

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