A dying declaration is a type of legal testimony delivered when people think they are dying. It is unusual because while many conversations overheard, called hearsay, are not admissible in court, sometimes the dying declaration is allowed to be part of testimony. The degree and circumstances which these declarations are allowed very much depends on the particular court. Oftentimes such declarations only get admitted if they have to do with a murder or homicide and even then, degree of admissibility might depend on type of trial like civil, as opposed to, criminal trial.
There can be different rules in place for when a dying declaration is considered good. If a person doesn’t actually die, but only thinks he was going to, what is said at the time may not be admissible by either prosecutor or defense. For example, if a person admits culpability to a crime with other people like friends in the room, this doesn’t count as a dying declaration and a prosecutor might not be able to use it in court. Another way this declaration can get thrown out is if the person doesn’t die and is actually around at the time a trial takes place; instead his or her testimony at trial would be used.
Often the dying declaration must be about a murder having taken place in a way the person dying can only know. This requirement best fits when the person declaring is the victim of a homicide, who is dying presently from the murderer’s actions. A person who has just been shot by someone else could accuse him, and this may be evidence, but the person must know the murderer’s identity. A declaration won’t be admitted if someone was simply speculating about who might have been the murderer.
Another way in which a dying declaration can’t be admitted is when a dying person accuses someone of the murder of someone else. There may be exceptions to this if the dying person also took part in the murder and is providing evidence. Usually such testimony can’t be admitted because the person accused has no chance to rebut or question the testimony.
In general, the biggest problem with a dying declaration is there is no opportunity to cross-examine. The witness, having died, is clearly unavailable, and his or her degree of credibility cannot be called into question. This goes against the general rules for witness testimony and protections built into the system for those accused of a crime. On the other hand, these declarations sometimes make good sense, particularly when they are very clear, such as an accounting of a murderer’s actions before his or her victim expires.