By:- Janvi Shukla 
In the Supreme Court of India
|Name of the case||Jayamma vs State of Karnataka|
|Citation||Criminal Appeal No. 758 of 2010|
|Date of judgement||7th May, 2021|
|Respondent||State of Karnataka|
|Bench/Judge||Hon’ble The Justice, Surya Kant, Hon’ble Justice Aniruddha Bose|
|Statutes/Constitution involved||The Evidence Act, 1872; The Indian Penal Code, 1860; The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973|
|Important Sections/Articles involved||The Indian Penal Code, 1860– Ss. 34, 302, 307, 102, 504 The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973– Ss. 313, 378 The Indian Evidence Act, 1872–S. 32|
In the present case, the High Court reversed the Trial Courts Judgement and convicted the appellants for thecrime which they have not committed. Dissatisfied by the High Court’s judgement the appellant then appealed to the Supreme Court. All courts, including the Trial Court, the High Court, and the Supreme Court, heard arguments in this case. The Supreme Court gave the final judgment. This major ruling focuses on the use of the dying declaration as the only piece of evidence in any case. The Supreme Court set aside the ruling of the High Court and granted bail to the appellants.
The main issue that arose in this case was whether the judgement could be given solely based on a dying declaration under Section 32 (1) of the Indian Evidence Act. A dying declaration is defined as when the statement is made by the person as the cause of his or her death, or as any of the circumstances of the transaction which led to his or her loss of life, in instances where the cause of that person’s death is disputed. The statement that the deceased individual made will be considered evidence and is admissible in court. The basis for this is Nemo Mariturus Presumuntur Mentri, a Latin maxim that states that “Man will not meet his maker with lying on his mouth,” is the basis for this. More specifically, it is the principle of Indian law that a dying person is unable to tell a falsehood or that a dying person speaks the truth. As a result, the Dying Declaration is admissible in court, is regarded as evidence, and may be utilized to punish the offender. 
According to the prosecution, there was an argument between the appellant and the deceased during which the deceased’s son attacked and hurt the husband of the appellant. After the incident, the appellants went to the deceased to demand money for the medical expenses. This led to an argument during which the deceased was doused in kerosene and set ablaze. The dead was taken to the hospital by the witness, who then had her admitted to the main healthcare facility. The police then filed a case against the appellant. the matter was forwarded to the Additional Sessions Judge. The appellants pled not guilty to these allegations; however, they were unable to support their claim with proof. The High Court further reversed the ruling of the Trial Court, holding that a person’s dying declaration was fully adequate to establish their guilt. The appellants appealed to the Supreme Court against this order of the High Court.
Facts of the Case
In this case, the appellant and respondent are closely related. According to the prosecution, a dispute between the families of Jayamma, wife of Reddinaika, and Jayamma, wife of Sanna Ramanaika, has existed for a long time. A heated argument took place between the families on 10th, 1998 in which Thippeswamynaika son of the deceased assaulted and injured Reddinaika. thereafter, on September 21, 1998, the appellants reportedly went to the deceased’s home and confronted her about the assault on Reddinaika. The appellants demanded Rs. 4,000 to cover the expense of Reddinaika’s medical care.
The appellants are accused of dousing the dead Jayamma with kerosene and setting her ablaze during the quarrel between the two families. When Ravi Kumar and Saroja Bai wife of Thippesswamynaika heard Jayamma’s cries, they arrived at the scene and rushed to extinguish the fire. Meanwhile, the appellants ran away from the spot. Since Jayamma was seriously injured Ravi Kumar sought help from Kumaranaika for sending Jayamma to the hospital. They took the wounded Jayamma to the Primary Health Centre (P.H.C.) in Thalak on a bullock cart. The wounded Jayamma received primary treatment there from Dr. A. Thippeswamy, who also gave her certain painkillers.
When SHO K.V. Mallikarjunappa received the medico-legal case information from the doctor at the Thalak Police Station, he went to the hospital to record the wounded Jayamma’s statement. Jayamma blamed the appellants in the case. According to Jayamma’s statement, Crime No. 101 of 1998 was reported to the Thalak Police Station under Sections 504, 307, 114 with Section 34 of the IPC. The victim was eventually transferred to Government Hospital, Chitradurga, due to the severity of the injuries. However, Jayamma passed away around 5:30 AM on September 23, 1998. The Police issued a requisition to the Court after learning of Jayamma’s passing, asking that the offense under Section 307 read with Section 34 IPC be changed to the offense under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC. Jayamma died of shock because of severe burn injuries, according to a report written by Dr. Sunil Chowhan, who performed a post-mortem investigation on the body.
Further investigation was conducted, witness statements were obtained, and the appellants were taken into custody. However, the appellant was successful in obtaining anticipatory bail and was subsequently freed upon her detention. The case was assigned to the court of the Additional Sessions Judge in Chitradurga following the conclusion of the investigation and the submission of the charge sheet. The appellants were charged under Sections 504, 302, 114 read with Section 34 IPC, to which they pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial. Several witnesses for the prosecution turned hostile during the trial. The deceased’s son said that the deceased committed suicide because she couldn’t stand the fact that her son, Thippeswamynaika, had been detained and imprisoned for assaulting the appellant’s husband. He also claimed that following the event, the deceased was unable to speak.
Similarly, the deceased’s daughter-in-law disputed the prosecution’s account and denied knowing how the victim passed away. Regarding her husband Thippeswamynaika’s detention, denied that any argument had occurred on September 10, 1998, and said she was unaware of the reason for her husband’s imprisonment. Both witnesses disagreed with the prosecution’s evidence. they said that nothing was taken while they were there and denied being called by the police. Only the police officer and the doctor were significant witnesses who agreed with the prosecution’s account of events. They stated that the deceased’s statement in which she accused the appellants of attacking her in a deadly manner, was sincere and voluntary. The trial court had to decide if Jayamma’s death was homicidal or suicide because it was undeniable that she suffered from burn injuries.
The trial court noted that the statement of the deceased which was being considered a dying declaration was the only piece of evidence. To establish the accused’s guilt, the prosecution mainly relied upon the statement. However, the trial court believed that the prosecution had failed to prove the genuineness of the evidence after considering the mitigating circumstances such as statements of the hostile witnesses, the nature of the victim’s burn injuries, and the lack of any corroborating evidence. The Court found that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof, hence it discharged the appellants.
The High Court reversed the trial court’s findings in an appeal and stated that the evidence, which consisted of a dying declaration, was conclusive and adequate to establish guilt. While it appears that the appellants made several arguments, the High Court disregarded them, ruling unequivocally that no weight could be given to the statements of the hostile witnesses. The High Court instead emphasized a police officer and the doctor’s statements, which supported the information in the dying declaration. The High Court reversed the trial court’s decision to convict the defendant, finding no reasonable reason to doubt either the police officer and the doctor’s statements or the details of the dying declaration. As a result, the appellants were found guilty under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC and given a life sentence. Dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision, the appellants have filed two criminal appeals challenging the decision of the court.
- Was it appropriate for the High Court to reverse the judgement rendered by the trial court?
- Was it effectively proven that Jayamma’s death was homicidal rather than suicidal?
Arguments from the Appellate side
- It was argued that the High Court, in interfering with an order of acquittal, had an obligation to carefully review the facts on file and should make a clear and convincing judgement as to why the trial court’s ruling could not be upheld or deserved interference. It was argued that the High Court failed to fulfill its duty under Section 378 CrPC because it neither considered all the evidence nor dealt with the trial court’s particular conclusions. It was also alleged that the dying declaration, could not serve as the sole basis for convicting the appellants under the facts and circumstances of the current case.
- It was argued, using this Court’s ruling in Surinder Kumar v. the State of Haryana, that the dying declaration could not be used as the sole basis for conviction in the absence of any supporting evidence since it was shrouded in questionable circumstances.
- Also bringing up Paparambaka Rosamma & Ors v. State of Andhra Pradesh learned counsel contended that the High Court should not have relied on it because there was no medical document attesting to the deceased’s mental capacity prior to recording the dying declaration.
- The learned counsel for the parties extensively discussed the case and thoroughly reviewed the record. The main arguments put up on behalf of the appellants are that the High Court’s ruling is completely opaque and that it incorrectly reversed the trial court’s well-supported order of acquittal.
- The reason for the homicidal death was uncertain. The deceased’s own son said that his mother committed suicide because she could not bear the thought of her other son being imprisoned.
Argument from the Respondent side
- The learned State Counsel backed the High Court’s judgement of conviction. He argued that the High Court had not only rendered a well-reasoned judgement but had also supported it with specific reasons, thus calling into question the order of acquittal.
- Vijay Pal v. State (Government of NCT of Delhi) was used in support of the argument that courts may utilize the dying declaration to convict an accused person even in cases with 100% burn damage.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860
According to Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, when criminal activity is carried out by several persons with the same common purpose, each of them is responsible for the crime in the same way as if it were done by him alone.
Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that a person who commits murder is subject to the death penalty, a life term in prison, as well as a large fine. As stated in IPC, no one is free from the crime of murder.
According to Section 307 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 whoever commits any act with such purpose or knowledge and under such circumstances that if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, may be punished with imprisonment of any kind for a time that may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine and if such conduct causes harm to any person, the offender shall be liable either to imprisonment for life or to such penalty as is he is deemed to be deserving of.
According to section 114 of the Indian penal code, 1860, When a person who, if absent, would be subject to punishment as an abettor, is present when the act or crime for which he would be subject to punishment as a result of the abetting is performed, he shall be assumed to have committed such act or offense.
According to section 504 of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who purposefully insults someone and does so with the intent or knowledge that such provocation will likely lead to him breaking the peace or committing another crime is punishable by either imprisonment for a term that may exceed two years, a fine, or both.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Section 313 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 gives the accused a fair opportunity to be heard.
Section 378 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 enables the State Government to instruct the Public Prosecutor to file an appeal against an appellateorder made by a court other than the High Court or from a revision made by the Court ofSession.
- The Indian Evidence Act, 1872
Section 32 of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that any written or oral statement containing pertinent facts made by a person who is either dead, cannot be located, or has grown incapable of providing evidence, or whose participation would involve a delay or expenditure which the court deems unreasonable.
The Court relied upon various other cases before giving the final judgement. In Chacko vs the State of Kerela, based on the dying declaration of the deceased, who was roughly 70 years old and had sustained 80% burns, this Court rejected accepting the prosecution’s case. It was decided that it would be difficult to believe that the injured person could give a thorough dying declaration after the incident had occurred and had passed for around 8 to 9 hours, including intricate details regarding the cause of the fire and how he had sustained his injuries. In that instance, the deceased person’s doctor had not certified that he was in a fit state of mind and body to make a dying declaration. However, this court believed that the way the occurrence was described in the dying declaration raised serious concerns about the document’s validity. Additionally, the court stated that the oral statement of the doctor or the investigating officer, made before the court for the first time, would not in any way strengthen the prosecution case.
In Shyam Shankar Kankaria vs the State of Maharashtra, it was reiterated that the dying declaration is only an unconfirmed piece of evidence and must, like all other evidence, persuade the Court that the statements made here are the whole truth and that it is entirely safe to act upon them.
Supreme Court did not believe it is completely safe to declare the appellants guilty based on the dying declaration. Between two lines of the dying declaration, a few words, written in a different colour of ink, have been added. The Supreme Court set aside the conviction of the appellant based on the following reason.
- Even a witness in a normal state of mind cannot be expected to speak with such accuracy since the dying declaration’s account of events is so precise. The supposed dying declaration is not in the form of questions and answers, despite the fact that it is reported that the deceased was questioned by the police officer. The Police Officer’s domination, whether direct or indirect, seems to have an impact on the responses.
- It seems impossible that the elderly illiterate injured victim could have given such an accurate account of the events that took place in those minutes.
- The victim was given very sedated medicines, and there is enough documentation to support this. It is reasonable to assume that the victim was in immense pain and was in extreme suffering given the 80 percent burn damage she had on all essential body parts, yet it cannot be fully ruled out that she was experiencing hallucinations or delusions. Although the doctor said that the victim was in the right state of mind but this statement was declared after the recording of the dying declaration.
- Regarding the type of burn injuries sustained on various body areas of the victim, there is a substantial discrepancy between the statements of the doctor and the police officer. The police officer claims that the victim’s hands were safe and that she was able to place her thumb impression despite the doctor’s confirmation that she had burn injuries to her hands.
- The prosecution has not attempted to establish the validity of the claim that the appellants only doused the victim in kerosene and set her ablaze because the victim’s son had assaulted the Appellant’s husband and the accused were demanding payment of Rs. 4,000/, which was used to treat the aforementioned assault victim.
- A Judicial or Executive Magistrate is not compulsory by law to be present to record a dying declaration. A Judicial or Executive Magistrate should preferably record the dying declaration to strengthen the prosecution’s case. To document the dying declaration, the police officer had enough time to call an Executive or Judicial Magistrate.
- When the trial court’s conclusion was a possible opinion, the High Court’s authority under Section 378 of the Criminal Procedure Code should not be commonly invoked. The trial court’s decision cannot be overturned just because the High Court believes its viewpoint to be more plausible unless the trial court’s decision exhibits irrationality or the findings it reached would be illogical given an accurate reading and interpretation of the facts in the case. To put it another way, the trial court’s judgement, which may also be the proper judgement, should not be tampered with unless the High Court determines that there was a thorough misinterpretation of the substantial evidence that resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
The High Court’s impugned order was overruled, and the appellants were permitted bail. Their bail bonds were cancelled because they were already free on bail.
The appellants’ conviction cannot be upheld solely on the dying declaration. The trial court rendered the correct decision, but the High Court reversed it after the prosecution appealed. The High Court found the appellant guilty despite not considering the case’s facts and relying only on the dying declaration. Due to the court’s incorrect ruling, the appellants had to suffer. Jayamma and her family were finally given justice after so many years. People are dependent on the judiciary for justice. The court, before giving the final judgement, should consider all the facts of the events.
 Author is 3rd semester student at Amity Law School, Lucknow.
 Surinder Kumar v. The State of Karnataka, 10 SCC 173.
 Parparambaka Rosamma & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 7 SCC 695.
 Vijay Pal v. State (Government of NCT of Delhi), 4 SCC 749.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860 §34.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860 §302.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860 §307.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860 §114.
 See The Indian Penal Code, 1860 §504.
 See The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 §313.
 See The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 §378.
 The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 §32.
 Chacko v. The State of Kerela, AIR 2003 SC 265.
 Shyam Shankar Kankaria vs The State of Maharashtra, (2003) 13 SCC 10,11.