In a court of law, there are rules in place to help ensure that fairness and justice are accomplished. These rules act as safeguards against things such as unreliable evidence that may sway a case one way or another. One of the primary rules of evidence is the hearsay rule. You may have heard of hearsay in passing during one of your favorite legal dramas, but never really considered what it actually means. Properly asserted hearsay objections in a criminal trial can have a big impact on the case. That is why it can be a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of what it entails.
Heard of Hearsay? This Is What It Actually Is
To put it in the broadest sense, hearsay is an out-of-court statement made to the truth of the matter asserted. The “out of court” element of this is simplest to understand as it really means just something that was said outside of the courtroom. “Statement can refer to something oral or written. The final element, “made to the truth of the matter asserted,” is certainly the most complex and difficult to understand element.
When a statement is made to the truth of the matter asserted, it means that the statement itself is being used as evidence to support the substance of that statement. For instance, if a witness says, “Ryan told me that he was on his way to the restaurant” in order to prove that Ryan was, in fact, on his way to the restaurant at that time, then the witness’s statement would be hearsay. The reason for offering the statement will primarily dictate whether a hearsay objection will be sustained or whether it will be admissible due to being a qualified exception to the hearsay rule.
To help understand the hearsay rule, it can be beneficial to look at why it exists in the first play. You see, hearsay is typically seen as secondhand information. Secondhand information is generally considered to be less reliable. Furthermore, this secondhand information is made out of court and so it is not made under oath. The person who actually made the original statement is not on the witness stand and cannot be cross-examined as to the validity and context of the statement. Because of these factors, hearsay is generally banned from the courtroom.
There are, however, a number of exceptions to the hearsay rule. If a statement that would otherwise be considered hearsay falls under one of these exceptions, it will still be admissible. One example of a hearsay exception is known as the “present sense impression.” If the hearsay statement is one that explains a condition or event right after or during the time when the declarant made the statement, then it may be considered to be admissible as a hearsay exception. Another exception is the “excited utterance” exception which allows a statement made due to a startling event. An excited utterance is one made due to the fact that the declarant was under stress or excitement at the time.
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Posted in: Criminal Defense