Understanding the Hearsay Evidence Rule
What Is A Hearsay Statement?
Generally speaking, hearsay evidence is an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Put simply, hearsay evidence is when a person testifies as to what someone else said in order to prove that what was said is the truth. Hearsay evidence does not have to spoken words, but can also be any statement found in a letter, email, public record or any other form of written communication. In general, hearsay evidence is inadmissible in a court of law. The rules of evidence require that the person who offered the statement testify to what they said themselves rather than have someone else repeat it in Court.
The Problem With Hearsay Evidence
The reason hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court is because someone testifying as to what someone else said is believed to be unreliable. Evidence given by a witness as to what someone else said and then speculating as to what the meaning of that statement means is the legal equivalent of spreading rumors. Under the law, unless the person who made the statement is available to testify as to what he or she said and state what was meant by the statement, the statement is considered unreliable and therefore, inadmissible in Court.
The rule against hearsay has its roots from the Kings Court in England. In those Courts, individuals were often convicted by hearsay statements. Often the memory and motives of human beings can be unreliable. In the Kings Court, many statements taken out of context or even fabricated were used to punish those who disagreed with the King and his policies. When the United States formed its own body of law, this practice was outlawed in the name of giving every defendant a fair trial.
Exceptions To The Hearsay Rule
Every State in the country has its own rules of evidence on how to treat Hearsay Evidence. The general rule is that it cannot be used in trial to prove the truth of the matter asserted. But every state also has its own set of exceptions to the Hearsay Rule. Most model the exceptions found in the Federal Rules of Evidence.
The first and most important exception to the Hearsay Rule is the Party Admission Rule. This is when the statement being offered in Court is a statement of one of the parties in a lawsuit and the statement is adverse to the party who said the statement. For example, party A and party B are in a car accident. On the scene party B tells Witness W that he was talking on his cell phone and was distracted when he hit Party A. W then testifies in Court the statement made by Party B. Technically, this is a hearsay statement and is inadmissible. However, under the Party Admission Rule, the statement would be admissible in Court. The reasoning behind this rule is that people are accountable for what they say and evidence of a statement contrary to their own position is thought to be admissible.
Besides the Party Admission Rule, there are numerous other exceptions to the Hearsay Rule. These include business records, public records, excited utterances, family records and other records and statements that are thought to be reliable. The key to any exception to the Hearsay Rule is that the statement is reliable and not just rumor or innuendo.
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