Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Dying Declaration Definition:

Exception to the hearsay rule: a statement of fact made by a dying victim relating to the cause and circumstances of a homicide.

Related Terms: Hearsay

In R v Woodcock (1789), Justice Eyre wrote:

"[T]he general principle on which this species of evidence is admitted is, that they are declarations made in extremity, when the party is at the point of death, and when every hope of this world is gone: when every motive to falsehood is silenced, and the mind is induced by the most powerful considerations to speak the truth; the situation so solemn and so awful, is considered by the law as creating an obligation equal to that which is imposed by a positive oath administered in a court of justice."

In Berry v American Standard, a witness died after having given part of his evidence at a video-taped deposition but before it could resume and before trial. Justice Thomas Welch wrote this for the Appellate Court of Illinois in rejecting the application to use the video of the deceased witness at trial:

"A dying declaration is a statement of fact made by a victim relating to the cause and circumstances of a homicide.

"A dying declaration is admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule because it possesses a guarantee of trustworthiness in the assumption that the belief of impending death excludes the possibility of fabrication by the declarant. The requirements for admitting a dying declaration into evidence are as follows: (1) the declaration pertains to the cause or circumstances of the homicide, (2) the declarant must believe that death is imminent, and (3) the declarant must possess mental faculties sufficient to give an accurate statement about the circumstances of the homicide.

"In Illinois, the exception has never been applied in a civil case. In no case, save that of a public prosecution for a felonious homicide, can dying declarations of the party killed be received in evidence, and in civil cases they are not admissible. No reported Illinois case has applied the exception in a civil case, and we will not be the first to do so here."

REFERENCES:

  • Berry v American Standard Inc., 888 S.E. 2d 740 (2008)
  • R. v. Woodcock, 168 E.R. 352

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