The dying declarations of a murder victim cannot be the sole basis for conviction of the accused “in cases where suspicion… is raised as regards the correctness (of the statement)”, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday as it heard the plea of a Uttar Pradesh man held guilty of the murder of three people in 2014 and sentenced to death.
Calling for “great caution” when relying on dying declarations – to which courts attach a presumption of truthfulness – the court also dealt with the legal principle on dying declarations and clarified the belief that an individual on their deathbed will not lie.
A dying declaration “…, while carrying a presumption of being true, must be wholly reliable and inspire confidence” and if there is “any suspicion over (its) veracity… or evidence on record shows the dying declaration is not true”, then “it will only be considered as a piece of evidence but cannot be the basis for conviction alone”, the court said.
Dying declarations can also only be accepted if it was made while the murder victim was in a “fit mental state”, which may not have been the case in the matter heard by the court.
The Supreme Court’s observations came as a bench of Justices BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala and Prashant Kumar Mishra heard a plea by Irfan, who has been in jail for the past eight years after having been found guilty for the murder of his son Islamuddin and two brothers Irshad and Naushad. The lower court relied on the dying declarations to convict Irfan.
The sentence was upheld by the Allahabad High Cour in 2018, after finding no discrepancies.
The Supreme Court, however, said it was not satisfied that the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and ordered Irfan’s release immediately. The court accepted senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan’s argument that the declarations were made while the men were suffering from 80 per cent burns, calling into question their ‘mental condition’.
The court has acknowledged the juristic theory on dying declarations is based on the presumption “when the party is at point of death and when every hope of this world is gone… man is induced by most powerful consideration to speak only the truth”.
However, the court also noted that in cases hinging on circumstantial evidence, dying declarations needed to be scrutinised. “Since accused has no power of cross-examination, courts insist dying declaration should inspire full confidence of court… court, however, should be on guard to see statement was not result of tutoring or product of imagination.”
With these points in mind, the Supreme Court indicate there is no ‘hard and fast rule’ on deciding on dying declarations but certain points needed to be kept in mind in all cases. These are:
- Was the person making the statement expecting to die
- Was the statement made as soon as possible
- Was the person making the declaration was tutored or prompted, whether by police or an interested party
- Was the statement recorded properly
- Did the person making the statement clearly observe the incident in question
- Are the sequence of events in the dying declaration consistent throughout the text
- Was the declaration voluntarily made
- In case of multiple declarations, is the first consistent with events detailed by the others
- Was the person making the declaration able to do on his/her own given their injuries