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This article is written by Surbhi Jindal, from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Haryana. Through this article, the author aims to critically analyze the case of Jayamma & Anr. v. The State of Karnataka. 

Introduction

On May 7, 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India delivered a judgment that revolved around the issue of dying declaration. The decision was passed in the case of Jayamma & Anr. v. The State of Karnataka, 2021 with Lachma s/o Chandyanaika & Anr. vs. State of Karnataka, 2021. It was delivered by a double bench comprising Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Justice Aniruddha Bose. 

The present case has undergone through all the Courts, i.e., the Trial Court, the High Court, and the Supreme Court, where the final verdict was given. This case is a perfect example where the issue of dying declaration has been explained in detail by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Court, in this case, highlighted the significance of a dying declaration and termed it a solitary piece of evidence in a murder trial. Through this article, we shall analyze the law around dying declarations, in the light of Jayamma & Anr. v. The State of Karnataka. 

Concept of dying declaration 

Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines the term ‘dying declaration’ as a statement of facts either written or verbally made by the deceased. This statement carries the explanation of circumstances that led to the death of a person. 

The principle of ‘Leterm mortem’ that means ‘words before death’ is a similar term for the legal terminology called a dying declaration. The dying declaration should be recorded with utmost care. If all the essential ingredients of a dying declaration are met, then such a statement or declaration retains its full value in the Court of law.

The essential ingredients of dying declaration to be fully admissible in the Court of law are as follows: 

  • The person making the statement must be in a fit state of mind. 
  • The fit state of mind must be certified by a doctor. 
  • If a doctor is not present, the witness must testify that the victim was in a fit state of mind. 
  • The statement so made must not be under any influence. 
  • If more than one statement is given and all of them are not consonant with each other, then all the dying declarations would lose their value. 

Facts of the case

  • In the present case, both the parties knew each other very closely. According to the Prosecution, there was hostility going between the families of both parties. The Appellant in the present case is Jayamma, the wife of Reddinaika, and the Respondent is Jayamma (deceased), the wife of Ramanaika. 
  • On September 10, 1998, a quarrel took place between the two parties in which Thippeswamynaika, son of the dead, injured and assaulted the husband of the Appellant i.e., Reddinaika.
  • After that, aggrieved by the act of the deceased’s son, the Appellants went to the deceased’s house for a confrontation about the assault committed on Reddinaika on September 21, 1998. 
  • Rupees 4000 were demanded from the Respondents for the cost incurred in medical treatment. There was a heated debate between the two parties, and the Appellants poured kerosene liquid on Jayamma (deceased) and set her on fire. The blame for killing Jayamma was explicitly attributed to the Appellants. 
  • On hearing the cry of Jayamma, Ravi Kumar, another son of the deceased, and Saroja Bai, daughter-in-law of the dead and wife of Thippeswamynaika, arrived on the spot and tried to extinguish the fire. In the meantime, the Appellants ran away from the location. 
  • Jayamma was seriously injured; therefore, Ravi Kumar asked the help from Kumaranaika to help him shift her mother to the hospital. The injured Jayamma was taken to a primary healthcare centre (P.H.C.) (Thalak) on a bullock cart.  
  • There she received primary treatment from Dr. A. Thippeswamy, who also administered various pain killers to Jayamma. After that, the doctor sent medico-legal case information to the Thalak Police station.
  • On receiving the complaint, S.H.O. K.V. Mallikarjunappa came to the hospital and recorded the statement of the injured Jayamma in the presence of a doctor. In her opinion, Jayamma signalled all the Appellants in the case. 
  • The report of crime no. 101 of 1998 was registered at the Thalak police station under Section 307, 504, 114 with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 based on a statement given by the Jayamma. 
  • Due to the severe condition of Jayamma, she was referred to the Government Hospital, Chitradurga but on September 23, 1998, at 5:30 am, Jayamma could not survive. 
  • After that, the police sent the requisition to the Court requesting them to register the offence under Section 302 read with Section 32 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 instead of Section 307 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 
  • The body was sent for the post-mortem, and it was found that Jayamma died of shock due to extensive burn injuries. 
  • According to all the evidence and witnesses, the Appellants were arrested during the investigation. However, they were able to obtain anticipatory bail and were thus released after the arrest. 
  • The matter went to the Trial Court, and during investigation in the Trial Court, several prosecution witnesses turned hostile except the doctor and the police officer. 
  • The matter involved before the Trial Court was not whether the deceased died due to burn injuries or not, but was whether the death was homicidal and suicidal? The Court noted that the sole reliance was on the statement that was treated as a dying declaration. 
  • But the Court did not find any reasoning in convicting the Accused because, according to it, the Prosecution failed in discharging the proof. The Trial Court found that the Prosecution could not prove the genuineness of their case by proving it beyond a reasonable doubt. 
  • The only thing on record was the statement of Jayamma, treated as a dying declaration, witnesses, and the nature of burn injuries of the victim. The evidence submitted was found to be vague and unsatisfactory. Hence, the Appellants were acquitted. 
  • The Prosecution appealed in the High Court of Karnataka. The following questions were put forward before the High Court:
    • Whether the death was suicidal or homicidal?
    • Whether the statement recorded before the officer was made when the injured was in a fit state of mind? 
    • Could the statement made before the officer be relied upon to build a strong foundation for proving the Appellants’ conviction? 
    • Did Prosecution successfully establish that the Appellants went to their home to kill the victim beyond a reasonable doubt?
  • It was found by the High Court that the evidence submitted and the dying declaration was enough to bring the conviction of the appellants. Accordingly, the Appellants were convicted under Section 302, read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. 
  • Also, an important fact to note is that all the witnesses turned hostile and did not support the Prosecution’s case. Only the police officer and the doctor were the ones in support of the Prosecution admitting that the Appellants had murdered her.
  • After that, aggrieved by the High Court order, the Appellants filed the two criminal appeals before the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court. 

Issues involved

The issues involved before the Hon’ble Supreme Court are here as follows: 

  • Whether the Hon’ble High Court misjudged in reversing the findings of the Trial Court while exercising its power under Section 378 of CrPC?  
  • Whether the Prosecution successfully established that the deceased died a homicidal death at the hands of the Appellants?

Relevant legal provisions

The relevant legal provisions involved in the case are described here as follows: 

The Indian Penal Code, 1860

  • Section 34: Section 34 defines the criminal act conducted by several persons with a shared intention. In such a situation, all of them are liable as if they have done such an illegal act alone. 
  • Section 114: Section 114 talks about the punishment of an abettor when they are present at the time of the commission of the offence. According to this Section, if an abettor is present when the crime is committed, the abettor would be liable as if they had committed the crime themselves. 
  • Section 302: Section 302 defines the punishment for murder. The penalty so prescribed is death or life imprisonment, and a fine.   
  • Section 307: This Section is related to the topic of an attempt to murder. Whenever any person with an intention or knowledge causes the other party’s death, then the party who has committed the crime will be punished with either description of a term between 2 to 10 years and the fine or even both. 
  • Section 504: This Section defines the punishment as the act of intentionally provoking someone when the person pressing knows that the provocation would result in the breach of the public peace, shall be punished with either the imprisonment extendable to 2 years or fine or both. 

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

  • Section 313: Section 313 talks about the power to examine the accused in a given inquiry or a trial. 
  • Section 378: Section 378 discusses the issue of appeal in case of acquittal of the party. The appeal in this Section is made in the High Court challenging the decision of lower courts. Also, an appeal against the High Court’s decision can be made before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. 

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 

  • Section 32: Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 determines the cases of the statement of relevant facts by any person who is either dead or cannot be found. Such statements made are deemed to fall in the category of relevant facts.   

Contentions by the parties 

The learned Counsel on behalf of the Appellants argued that the High Court’s order was confusing and incorrect. It further opined that the Trial Court’s ruling was well reasoned, and it correctly acquitted the Appellants in the present case. 

Furthermore, reliance was put on some instances of the Hon’ble Supreme Court such as the Chandrappa v. the State of Karnataka, 2007, Perla Somasekhara Reddy and Others v. the State of A.P., 2009; State of Rajasthan v. Shera Ram, 2012, Shyam Babu v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2012, Murugesan v. State, 2012, Mookiah v. State, 2013, and Shivasharanappa v. the State of Karnataka, 2013 to assert that the High Court should have more diligently scrutinized the evidence before interfering with the order of the Trial Court. 

The learned Counsel sought a reasonable reply as to why the findings and order of the Trial Court could not be sustained or why interference was necessary. It was contended that the High Court did not evaluate the entire evidence and the findings of the Trial Court. Hence, it failed to discharge its obligation under Section 378 of the CrPc. 

The dying declaration cannot be the sole evidence to rely upon for the conviction of the Appellants. It further relied on the decision of Surinder Kumar v. State of Haryana, 2011. Depending on the previous judgments, it was asserted that since the document (dying declaration) of the Jayamma was disguised with suspicious circumstances, it cannot be termed as a piece of solitary evidence in the absence of further solid evidence. 

Further, reliance was also made on the case of Paparambaka Rosamma & Ors v. the State of A.P, 1999, through which it was argued that in the absence of a medical certificate attesting medical fitness as to the state of mind of an injured person, reliance should not be made on the dying declaration of the deceased and the High Court should have acknowledged this fact. 

In the end, the learned Counsel for Appellants drew the attention that the High Court has failed to look at some of the most crucial facts. Therefore, it has been unable to see that the Prosecution has failed to establish any motive of the Appellants in the present case. Thus, the conviction of the Appellants was not reasonable. 

On the other hand, the learned State Counsel asserted its support in favour of the conviction by the High Court. He explained that the High Court gave a well-reasoned judgment while applying specific reasons supporting its conviction of appellants. 

Furthermore, it put reliance on the case of Vijay Pal v. State (Government of N.C.T. of Delhi), 2015, where it was contended that even in the cases where 100% burn injuries had taken place, the dying declaration could still be relied upon to prove the conviction of the accused. 

Judgment of the Court

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India noted that the High Court had relied heavily upon the statement treated as a dying declaration of the deceased. Besides this, it also relied heavily on the corroborative statements made by the police officer and doctor who were present when recording the dying declaration. The mental condition of the deceased was also endorsed to make such a statement. 

The Court looked at the dying declaration of the deceased and found out that there was some manipulation done in the original dying order as it appeared that some words had been inserted by the police officer with a different ink. 

To advertise the actual admissibility and credibility of the statement, the Court quoted a few judgments close to the present case’s facts. The brief of all the decisions cited are presented here as below: 

  • P.V. Radhakrishna. v. State of Karnataka, 2003: In this case, the question before the Court was to consider whether the percentage of burns suffered can act as a determinative factor in affecting the credibility and recording of a dying declaration. The Court held that there was no fixed universal rule in this regard, and it would depend upon the nature of burn, the impact of the burn, and the part of the body affected by that. 
  • Chacko v. State of Kerala, 2003: The Court in this particular case was not willing to accept the genuineness and evidentiary value of the dying declaration. In the present Prosecution based case, the deceased woman of 70 years, who had suffered 80% of the burn injuries had given the detailed dying declaration after 7 to 8 hours of burning. It was difficult for the Court to accept that the injured lady, 80% burns, could report what had happened to her. Also, in this case, the doctor made no certification on the mental and physical condition of the deceased. The Court doubted the genuineness of the document since how it was given it could not have been in such an exact position. 
  • Sham Shankar Kankaria v. State of Maharashtra, 2006: In this case, the Honorable Supreme Court restated that “the dying declaration is only a piece of untested evidence and just like any other evidence satisfy the Court that what is stated therein is the unalloyed truth and that it is safe to act upon it.” 

Various other cases were relied upon to prove the evidentiary value of the dying declaration. The Court opined that there were several doubts in the present case related to the dying declaration. It doubted whether the deceased was in a fit state of mind to give the statement or not.

Also, the number of burn injuries that Jayamma suffered had let her go through great agony, due to which she was not able to give her statement correctly.   

Particular emphasis was laid upon “the endorsement made by the doctor that the victim was in a fit state of mind to make the statement has been made not before the statement but after the statement was recorded. Normally it should be the other way around.” After that, the Court started to purport the evidentiary value of the dying declaration. 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court provided a few reasons for not convicting the Appellants in the present case. 

  • The Court noted that how the events were narrated in the dying declaration were so accurate that even if a person was in a fit state of mind, he could not have dealt with such precision of facts. However, it is argued that the dying declaration was taken in the question and answer format by the police officer. It was not noted according to the structure of the recording. The statement seems to be influenced directly and indirectly by the police officer in one direction.  
  • It was stated that the deceased was an illiterate older person, and it seems to be very strange that such a person could narrate the events in discourse with such a high degree of accuracy. 
  • The deceased, before her death, was administered highly sedative painkillers. Even the doctor himself admitted this fact. After seeing the injuries on her body, it can be completely assured that she suffered from high pain and agony. It cannot be ruled out that she might be suffering from a state of delusion and hallucination. The doctor said that the victim was in a fit state of mind after the dying declaration was recorded. The standard practice is that this statement is said before recording the dying declaration, but in this case, it was made afterwards. 
  • There was a high contradiction between the statements of the police officer and the doctor. The police officer stated that the deceased’s hands were not injured and hence she could put a thumb impression, but the doctor claimed that the deceased’s hands were injured. 
  • The police officer has himself admitted that he did not take endorsement from the doctor whether the injured was in a fit state of mind or not. The doctor and officer had tried to cover this solemn fact, and later on, the police officer took an endorsement regarding the state of mind unusually.  
  • There has been no evidence of the death being homicidal. The Prosecution made no efforts to establish that the Appellants poured the kerosene on the Jayamma and lit the fire. The Court also noted that nothing could be found from the facts when the deceased’s son and daughter-in-law have denied the incident and had claimed that she committed suicide. 
  • The Hon’ble Supreme court held that if it had been the case of homicidal death, then the deceased’s son and the daughter-in-law would have complained to the police station. However, the opposite happened. The doctor was the one who informed the police about the incident; none of the two, that was, the deceased’s son and daughter-in-law. This statement of facts cast a severe doubt and supports the supposition that the deceased might have committed suicide. 
  • The police officer had enough time to call an Executive/Judicial Magistrate to record the dying declaration. It is believed that such officers have the requisite training to judicially record dying declaration after complying with particular prerequisites such as certification, endorsement from a medical officer. Though our law does not make it mandatory to record a judicial officer’s dying declaration, it is still preferred to strengthen the case. 
  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court was reluctant to accept the contents of the dying declaration. It further said that the victim was brought to the Civil hospital at 12:30 on September 22, 1998. She died due to burn injuries almost after 30 hours, i.e., at 5:30 am on September 23, 1998. There was adequate time to call the Executive Magistrate, but the same did not happen. 

The other reason why the Supreme Court set aside the conviction of the Appellants was that it felt that the power of authority by the High Court under Section 378 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 should not be invoked routinely when the view of the Trial Court is the possible and correct one. The judgment of the Trial Court should not be set aside merely on the fact that the High Court finds its view more correct and reasonable. 

The High Court should only interfere when it finds that the Trial Court misread the material evidence, leading to the complete miscarriage of justice. The Trial Court’s findings can also be correct, and hence high courts should restrict their power under Section 378 of CrPC. 

Hence, answering the potential issues involved in the case, it can be said that:

  • The Hon’ble High Court misjudged in reversing the findings of the Trial Court while exercising its power under Section 378 of CrPC. It should have dealt more reasonably and factually with the evidence, and hence the Trial Court was correct in its finding that Appellants are not guilty of the offence. 
  • The Prosecution did not successfully establish that the deceased died a homicidal death at the hands of Appellants as the statements and the dying declaration were not corroborated by the police officer and the doctor. Also, the deceased’s son and daughter-in-law did not complain, which let us presume that the deceased had committed suicide. 

Therefore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court finds it difficult to hold the Appellants guilty based only on the dying declaration. Both the criminal appeals were allowed, and the Appellants were acquitted of the charge. 

Conclusion

The present case is the classic example of the phrase, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ 

It took years for the Appellants to be held not guilty of committing any offence. Besides, the deceased Jayamma’s actual cause of death came to be known after the Supreme Court concluded that the Appellants are not guilty under Section 302, read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

Although our criminal justice jurisprudence says that ‘No one is guilty until proven.’ But the society, without acknowledging that the matter is pending before the Hon’ble Court, themselves treat the accused as criminals.

Has anyone thought about the kind of defamation and pain the Appellants may have gone through in these years? Can there be any recovery for the economic, financial, and personal damages they may have incurred? 

The Appellants went to the Prosecution’s house demanding rupees 4000 as a part of the injury caused to Reddinaika, Jayamma’s husband. But who predicted that the demand for rupees 4000 would become a bane for them and destroy their lives. 

The case also highlights the fact that the findings of the Trial Court should be taken off with utmost diligence since it is not always that they may have conducted the wrong investigation. The Trial Court in the present case acquitted the Appellants. The decision was reversed when the Prosecution appealed before the High Court, and the Appellants were held guilty. The Appellants, after that, appealed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court. 

While acquitting the Appellants, the Hon’ble Supreme Court provided a detailed and reasonable explanation for their decision. It took a clear note of all the relevant facts and analyzed the situation minutely. The analysis provided by the Hon’ble Justices in the case is highly appreciable. 

But two questions need to be pondered over. The first is why the High Court did not take note of all these relevant facts and circumstances. It directly relied on the dying declaration provided that the Appellants were guilty. Had it analyzed it very carefully as the Hon’ble Supreme Court did, the matter would not have been listed in the Supreme Court, and a lot of litigation time would have been saved.  

The second question that arises is the prosecution witnesses, i.e., the police officer and the doctor standing in favour of the Prosecution. Even the deceased’s son, daughter in law was not in favour and admitted that Jayamma committed suicide. There were consistencies involved in the statements of the police officer and doctor, which posed a severe doubt on the relevancy of the dying declaration. 

The Court of law always relies on the evidence, and the Hon’ble Supreme Court outrightly took note of them and, based on it, declared its judgment. Justice hasn’t been served very quickly, but it has been done. Finally, the case of Jayamma & Anr. v. The State of Karnataka stands closed. 

References


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