A dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule, which prohibits introducing evidence of out-of-court statements made by unavailable witnesses. The Federal Rules of Evidence have relaxed the common law standards for dying declarations and require the following conditions be met before introducing a dying declaration into evidence:
- Awareness of imminent death: The declarant must, at the time he made his statement, believe that his death is imminent.
- Actual death: At common law, the declarant must in fact be dead by the time the evidence is offered. But this is not required under the Federal Rule, although the declarant must be unavailable.
- Homicide: At common law, the declaration may be used only in a homicide case. Under the Federal Rules, dying declarations are usable in civil suits and homicide cases, but not in non-homicide criminal cases.
- Declarant is victim: At common law, declaration may be offered only in a trial for the killing of the declarant, not the killing of someone else. The Federal Rules no longer include this requirement.
- Relating to circumstances of killing: Both at common law and under the Federal Rules, the declaration must relate to the causes or circumstances of the killing.
- For accused: The statement may be admitted on behalf of the accused (though usually, it is admitted against him.)