Supreme Court Explains Principles Relating to Dying Declaration

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has delivered an extensive analysis of the principles governing the admissibility and evidentiary value of dying declarations. The bench, comprising Justices Abhay S. Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan, dismissed the criminal appeal filed by Rajendra S/O Ramdas Kolhe.

Background of the case:

The case concerns the tragic death of Rekha Dhokne, a police constable who sustained severe burn injuries on July 22, 2002, in Ambajogai, Maharashtra. In her dying declaration (Exhibit 59), Rekha implicated her husband, Rajendra Kolhe (the appellant), and her brother-in-law, Suresh, accusing them of setting her on fire by pouring kerosene over her body. Rekha succumbed to her injuries on July 24, 2002.

The trial court convicted Rajendra Kolhe under Section 302 (murder) read with Section 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, sentencing him to life imprisonment. The Bombay High Court upheld this conviction, dismissing Kolhe’s appeal.

Legal Issue:

The primary legal issue before the Supreme Court was the admissibility and evidentiary value of Rekha’s dying declaration (Exhibit 59). The court conducted an extensive examination of the principles governing dying declarations, as outlined in Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and supported by various precedents.

Decision of the Court:

After a thorough analysis of the evidence and legal principles, the Supreme Court upheld Rajendra Kolhe’s conviction and dismissed his appeal. The court made several observations:

  • Authenticity and Reliability of Dying Declaration:

The court stressed that upon confirming the authenticity of a dying declaration, finding it credible and free from any coaching, it can serve as the sole basis for conviction without requiring corroboration.

Justice Ujjal Bhuyan affirmed, “Once this determination is made, a dying declaration carries significant sanctity and, as previously stated, can constitute the sole foundation for conviction.”

  • Scrutiny of Dying Declaration:

The court emphasized the importance of closely examining a dying declaration to ascertain that it was not influenced by coaching, prompting, or imagination, and that the deceased was in a sound mental and physical condition to make such a statement.

  • Evidentiary Value of Dying Declaration:

Drawing from previous judgments, the court reaffirmed that a dying declaration holds a “sacrosanct status” as evidence, originating directly from the deceased victim. When the court is convinced of its veracity, a dying declaration can alone suffice for conviction without requiring corroboration.

  • Inconsistencies and Improvements in Witness Testimony:

The court acknowledged that there were certain inconsistencies and improvements in the testimony of prosecution witnesses but deemed them insignificant. The court noted that such variations are normal when recalling events after a considerable passage of time.

~Arisha Qureshi (Legal Intern)

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