A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Pankaj Mithal passed a judgement dated 05.01.2024 in Jitendra Kumar Mishra @Jittu V. State of Madhya Pradesh Cr. Appeal No.1348 of 2011, where the Court allowed the Appeal of the Appellants which challenged the conviction in a murder case by the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Criminal Appeal No. 2237 of 2008.
i) The case involved the murder of Rajendra Yadav @Pappu which probably took place around 08.45 p.m. in the night, in front of Machchu Hotel in Jabalpur. It was alleged that when the deceased along with his friends Virendra Kumar Verma (PW-1) and Amit Jha (PW-12) was coming out of the Machchu Hotel, the four accused namely Amit Mishra @Manja, Jitendra Kumar Mishra @Jittu, Gledwin @Banti Isai and Ajay @Ajayya were armed with weapons such as a knife and sickle, and they allegedly beat and assaulted the deceased resulting in his death.
ii) The information regarding the incident was given to the brother and mother of the deceased by one of his friends Virendra Kumar Verma. On receiving the said information, both brother and the mother of the deceased rushed to the place of occurrence and found the deceased lying on road in a pool of blood.
iii) The mother and the brother took the deceased to the Police Station, where FIR was recorded and then the deceased was taken to the hospital where he was declared as dead.
iv) The Appellants were convicted under Section 302 (Punishment for murder) and Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) by the Additional Sessions Judge, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
v) The case of the Prosecution majorly relied upon the Dying Declaration which was made by the deceased in oral form to his brother and mother. Another evidence produced by Prosecution was the statement of Rahul Yadav (PW-13) who was the eye witness of the alleged offence.
A) Whether evidence of oral dying declaration is sufficient for conviction of accused persons?
B) Whether benefit of doubt shall be given to accused persons when evidence does not conclusively prove guilt?
Decision by the Supreme Court:
1) The Apex Court was of the view that as per the postmortem report, the victim must have died in 5-10 minutes due to the lung puncture and severe head injury. On the other hand, Virendra Kumar Verma (PW-1), went from the place of incident to the home of the deceased and later informed the brother and mother of the deceased, it must have taken them approx. 15-25 minutes to reach back to the place of the incident. Hence, it is unlikely for the victim to survive for such long to give a dying declaration. Thus, the Supreme Court held that in these circumstances, the dying declaration cannot be ex facie accepted to be correct unless it stands corroborated by any other cogent evidence.
2) Moreover, the Supreme Court held that Rahul Yadav (PW-13) was a relative of the deceased. During Trial, evidence was also revealed against PW-13 that he was a person with criminal background and history. He was involved in the cases registered under Section 324 (Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means) and Section 326 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of Indian Penal Code. He was also been chargesheeted under Section 3 (Punishment for causing explosion likely to endanger life or property) and Section 5 (Punishment for making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances) of the Explosive Substance Act 1908. Also, the fact that he was present there at the time of incident was missing from the FIR. Hence, the Supreme Court held that his testimony had to be considered with great care and suspicion and thus cannot be relied upon blindly without considering available corroborative evidence on record.
3) Also, the two eye-witnesses i.e. Virendra (PW-1) and Amit Jha (PW-12) were declared hostile and as such their depositions were of no relevance. Considering the overall facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that the Appellant and Trial Courts should have granted the benefit of doubt to the Appellants.
4) The Supreme Court set aside the judgement of High Court of Madhya Pradesh and acquitted the accused persons by giving them the benefit of doubt.
Consequently, the Supreme Court allowed the Appeal filed by the Appellants and set aside the earlier decision of conviction. The Apex Court also expressed reluctance about accepting the dying declaration as accurate without corroborating evidence, and also noted lack of material for corroboration of evidence can lead to acquittal of the accused even if he has committed the crime. The Court also held that when the evidence suggests a failure to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused must be presumed not guilty.
Meaning of Dying Declaration:
A Dying Declaration is a statement made by a person while they are dying, explaining the reason for their death. This statement can be either indirect or direct, revealing the cause of their death. Therefore, the statement given shortly before a person’s death is called a dying declaration. If a person is mentally sound and aware that they are about to die, they can make a declaration stating the cause of their death. The statement can be accepted as evidence in a court of law. Dying declaration is an exception to the general rule of hearsay evidence
As per the Indian Evidence Act 1872, Section 32 describes Dying Declaration:
Section 32: Cases in which statement of relevant fact by person who is dead or cannot be found, etc., is relevant: Statements, written or verbal, of relevant facts made by a person who is dead, or who cannot be found, or who has become incapable of giving evidence, or whose attendance cannot be procured without an amount of delay or expense which under the circumstances of the case appears to the Court unreasonable, are themselves relevant facts in the following cases:
1) When it relates to cause of death- When the statement is made by a person as to the cause of his death, or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death, in cases in which the cause of that person’s death comes into question. Such statements are relevant whether the person who made them was or was not, at the time when they were made, under expectation of death, and whatever may be the nature of the proceeding in which the cause of his death comes into question.
Essential Ingredients of Dying Declaration:
3 essential ingredients will have to be proved to the satisfaction of the court and they are:
a) The declarant should have been in actual danger of death at the time when he made the statement;
b) He should have had full apprehension of his danger and;
c) Death should have ensued.
Dying Declaration made in front of a Magistrate or a Doctor holds more evidentiary value as compared to any other witness. A Dying Declaration carries significant weight in legal proceedings and can serve as the sole basis for a conviction without the need for additional corroborating evidence. However, the Court must be satisfied that the dying declaration imparts complete confidence in its accuracy.
When a Dying Declaration is not admissible in law if there are doubts about the decision, inconsistencies, substantial incompleteness, proof of falsehood, or signs of coercion influencing the statement, its reliability may be questioned.
The Indian Lawyer & Allied Services
Sushila Ram Varma
The Indian Lawyer & Allied Services