While hearing appeals on a decision of High court regarding conviction under section 302 r/w section 34 of IPC, the Supreme Court held that dying declaration cannot be admitted as the sole basis for conviction when it is not corroborated with witness statements and facts and circumstances of the case. This judgment was passed in the case of Jayamma & Anr. vs. State of Karnataka [Crl. A. No. 758/2010] with Lachma s/o Chandyanaika & Anr. vs. State of Karnataka [Crl. A. No. 758/2010] by a Double Bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Justice Aniruddha Bose.
The present appeal was against the order of the High Court of Karnataka where the order of the trial court was set aside and appellants were convicted under section 302 read with section 34 of the Indian Penal code (IPC). It was the case of the prosecution that there was a quarrel between appellant no.1 and deceased in which the son of the deceased assaulted and injured the husband of Appellant no.1. following the incident appellants went to demand from the deceased Rs.4000/- for the medical expenses and on a heated argument doused the deceased in kerosene and set her on fire. The witness took the deceased to the hospital, admitted her to the primary health care center and the police registered the complaint under section 504, 307, 114 read with section 34 of IPC. The police requested the court to alter the offense from section 307 r/w section 34 IPC to section 302 r/w section 34 IPC. After the completion of the investigation by the police the charges were framed under section 504, 302, 114 r/w section 34 of IPC and the case was committed to the Additional Sessions, Judge. The Appellants pleaded not guilty to the same but did not provide any evidence to lead the same.
The High Court reversed the decision on appeal and held that the dying declaration was clinching and sufficient to prove guilt. The appellants filed an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the same. The Supreme Court observed that there were two issues that had to be dealt with. The first being if the High Court erred in exercising its power under section 378 of CrPC and the second being if the prosecution had successfully established the deceased died a homicidal death at the hands of the appellant.
The Supreme court observed that when the dying declaration is recorded in accordance with the law and gives a cogent and plausible explanation of the occurrence then the court can rely upon it as a solitary piece of evidence. Section 32 of the evidence act exists for the same reason making the statement of the deceased admissible. The court observed in the present case the litmus test was whether the victim made the statement and if the yes then whether it can be a solitary foundation for the conviction of the appellants. The court observed it was not safe to convict the appellants on the basis of the declaration since the deceased was an illiterate old person and it would be impossible to narrate with precision in few minutes give that she had 80% burns and was on painkillers. There were major contradictions between both the witnesses of the prosecution and the police admitted that they did not bother to ask the doctor for the fitness of the deceased mind. Lastly, there was not an iota of evidence to verify the truth of statements.
The Supreme Court also held that the power of the High Court under section 378 CrPC should not be invoked routinely where the trial Court’s view was only a possible view. Only where there is a complete misreading of material evidence leading to miscarriage of justice the High Court can intervene. The self-restraint doctrine does not decrease the powers of the High court on re-appreciating evidence or an appeal against acquittal.
The Supreme Court concluded by holding, “We fully endorse the view taken by the learned trial court. Consequently, and for the reasons aforestated, both the appeals are allowed.”