A THREE judge bench of the Supreme Court in the recent judgment of ‘Jayamma & Anr. v/s. State of Karnataka’, discussed in detail, the significance of a Dying Declaration as the solitary piece of evidence in a murder trial.
The Court was adjudicating an appeal against an order of reversal of acquittal by the High Court of Karnataka. The basis of reversal of acquittal was the dying declaration of the victim, corroborated by the statement of the police officer and the doctor, in whose presence it was recorded.
The Supreme Court, while reversing the order of the High Court, disbelieved the dying declaration on the grounds that :
The narration of events in the dying declaration were too accurate to be believed to be true.
The deceased was an illiterate person, and it appeared beyond human probabilities to narrate the details of the incident with such a high degree of accuracy.
The possibility of the victim not fit to give any statement owing to 80% burn injuries could not be ruled out, and the conduct of the police officer was also held to be doubtful.
Contradictions in the statements of the police officer and the doctor with respect to the nature of injuries.
No endorsement of ‘Fit State of Mind’ before recording the dying declaration.
Motive of ‘Homicidal Death’ was doubtful.
Unusual conduct of relatives of not registering a complaint, which supported the alternate theory that the victim might have committed suicide.
Prosecution had sufficient time to call for the assistance of a Judicial Magistrate to record the dying declaration, however, it failed to do so.
The judgment in Jayamma as referred to above is a significant one, since it clarifies the evidentiary value of a dying declaration, and the sustenance of conviction solely based thereupon. The Court held as follows –
On Dying Declaration being the solitary piece of evidence:
“When the dying declaration has been recorded in accordance with law, and it gives a cogent and plausible explanation of the occurrence, the Court can rely upon it as the solitary piece of evidence to convict the accused.”
The Object of Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act and admissibility of Dying Declaration:
“It is for this reason that Section 32 of the Evidence Act, 1872 is an exception to the general rule against the admissibility of hearsay evidence and its Clause (1) makes the statement of the decease admissible. Such statement, classified as a “dying declaration” is made by a person as to the cause of his death or as to the injuries which culminated to his death or the circumstances under which injuries were inflicted. A dying declaration is thus admitted in evidence on the premise that the anticipation of brewing death breeds the same human feelings as that of a conscientious and guiltless person under oath. It is a statement comprising of last words of a person before his death which are presumed to be truthful, and not infected by any motive or malice. The dying declaration is therefore admissible in evidence on the principle of necessity as there is very little hope of survival of the maker, and if found reliable, it can certainly form the basis for conviction.”
Landmark Judgments relied upon by the Court:
P.V. Radhakrishna. v. State of Karnataka
(2003) 6 SCC 443
Percentage of Burns, whether determinative factor?
Percentage of burns alone would not determine the probability or otherwise of making the dying declaration.
The following are some of the determining factors:
Nature of the burns,
Part of the body affected by the burns,
Impact of the burns on the faculties to think and convey the idea or facts coming to mind.
Chacko v. State of Kerala
(2003) 1 SCC 112
Factors which makes the Dying Declaration doubtful
Factors which raise questions on the genuineness of a Dying Declaration:
Higher percentage of Burns
Age of the victim,
Duration from the injury till recording of dying declaration,
Absence of Certificate of Fitness
Sampat Babso Kale and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra
(2019) 4 SCC 739
Whether higher percentage of burns affect the credibility of dying declaration.
Victim with 98% burns, the shock may lead to delusion,
The combined effect of the trauma with the administration of painkillers could lead to a case of possible delusion.
Para 14, 15, 16
Sham Shankar Kankaria v. State of Maharashtra
(2006) 13 SCC 165
Dying Declaration as the sole piece for Conviction
Factors which the Court must consider while relying upon a dying declaration for a sole piece for conviction –
Statement is not a product of imagination or result of tutoring or prompting,
Deceased should be in a fit state of mind,
Declaration is true and voluntary.
Surinder Kumar v. State of Haryana
(2011) 10 SCC 173
Dying Declaration as the basis of conviction, even without corroboration
No impediment to make dying declaration as sole basis of conviction if –
It is coherent and consistent,
True and Voluntary,
Free from any effort to induce the deceased to make a false statement,
Not a result of tutoring, prompting or imagination.
Para 14, 17, 19, 26, 28
(Prastut Dalvi is an advocate in the Supreme Court. The views expressed are personal.)