Legal Eagle : Dying declarations are important

September 04, 2017

Your last words could be the most important evidence at your murder trial. How is this so? Well, it's called a dying declaration.

Upon an indictment for say, murder or manslaughter, the law provides that the dying declaration of the deceased, with respect to the cause of death, is admissible into evidence if the statement was made at a time when he was of the view that he was sure to die.

Consider this scenario. Tom Brown, a businessman, was locking up his grocery store in Montego Bay at about 5 p.m. in June 2016.

A man, whom he knew before as John Yellow, aka 'Shabba', from Little Road in St James, walked up to him, pointed a gun directly at him and demanded the day's sale.

Tom spoke with Shabba for about a minute, but upon telling Shabba that the money was removed earlier by a courier service, Shabba fired several shots at him.

Two of the bullets caught Tom in his abdomen. His fiancÈe, who lived upstairs the grocery shop with him, having heard the explosions, ran downstairs and saw Tom lying in a pool of blood.

 

NAMED HIS ATTACKER

 

Tom was placed in the back of a car and while on his way to hospital, told his fiancÈe that he was going to die. He also told her that he was shot by Yellow. He then passed away.

Tom's fiancee gave a statement to the police on the same day. The driver of the car also gave a statement to the police.

Yellow was arrested and charged with Brown's murder. At the trial in the Circuit Court, Tom's fiancÈe was called to give evidence.

However, Yellow's lawyer objected on the ground that the evidence would be hearsay in that the deceased said these words to his fiancÈe, but the accused was not present.

The prosecution opposed the submissions by defence counsel and submitted to Mr Justice Jug Head, the presiding judge, that he was bound to follow the decision of the Privy Council in the 1981 case of Nembhard v R, where the evidence of a wife was admitted in circumstances where she heard shots and ran out.

Her husband, a policeman, was shot. He told her he was going to die and named his attacker. The judge then ruled in favour of the prosecution and admitted the fiancÈe's evidence.

Yellow was convicted by the jury and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at hard labour, before parole.

The admission of a dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule. The general principle is that these dying declarations are made in extremity, at the time of death, when every hope of living in this world is gone, when the motive of falsehood is silenced and the mind is induced by the most powerful considerations to speak the truth.

In fact, this moment is considered by the law to be so awful and solemn that it created an obligation tantamount to that moment when an oath is administered in the court of justice.

In sum, it is important to remember that whenever someone is transcending this life and begins to take those steps to the immortal mansion above and begins to speak, listen keenly.

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