Dying Declaration Tennessee
In Smith v. State, 28 Tenn. 9, 19 (1848) , the Court observed that when the declarant "'is at the point of death, and when every hope of this world is gone, when every motive of falsehood is silenced, and the mind is induced by the most powerful consideration to speak the truth, a situation, so solemn and 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 Tennessee, a dying declaration has five elements:
(1) The declarant must be dead at the time of the trial;
(2) the statement is admissible only in the prosecution of a criminal homicide;
(3) the declarant must be the victim of the homicide;
(4) the statement must concern the cause or the circumstances of the death; and
(5) the declarant must have made the statement under the belief that death was imminent.
In Dickason v. State, 139 Tenn. 601, 202 S.W. 922 (1918), a gunshot wound to the abdomen resulting in hardly any chance of survival by the victim was deemed a sufficient basis for the belief of imminent death. See also State v. Keels, 753 S.W.2d 140, 143 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1988).
Conversations between the declarant and a physician or a family member about the physical condition of the declarant may be important indicators of whether the defendant believed death was imminent.
Likewise, statements made by the declarant about his or her state of health are important factors. See, e.g., Crittendon v. State, 157 Tenn. 403, 8 S.W.2d 371 (1928).
In State v. Lunsford, 603 S.W.2d 745, 746-47 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1980), the Court ruled as follows:
The entire controversy revolves around whether the declarant had "a certain belief that rapid death was inevitable." This, the learned text writer teaches us, is the most essential element of the dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule. The requirement is one of hopelessness, and it must be met. Where the person is oblivious to the danger, or where he is merely aware of the possibility or even a probability, the requirement of hopelessness is not met. . . .(603 S.W.2d at 746.)