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Understanding the Hearsay Evidence Rule

Updated on July 4, 2014
Understanding Hearsay Evidence
Understanding Hearsay Evidence

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.

Hearsay is evidence of an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of matter asserted.
Hearsay is evidence of an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of matter asserted.

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.

Excited Utterances
Excited Utterances
There Are Many Exceptions To The General Rule That Hearsay Is Inadmissable
There Are Many Exceptions To The General Rule That Hearsay Is Inadmissable

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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    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Justice was bought when the founding fathers were around as well. Laws are needed as well to set out a fair process. The Hearsay Rule helps do that. People in England were jailed for what someone testified about what someone who wasn't there said. Not allowed here.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 4 years ago from Central United States

      Laws are only needed when people don't obey common sense rules. Money now makes many of the laws null and void. This is a sad state of affairs.

      It means justice can be bought which was never what was intended by the founding fathers.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks MG

      Gamer, agree in part, disagree in part. The old laws serve a purpose but I agree money plays too big a part.

    • gamerjimmy23 profile image

      Jimmy Gent 4 years ago from California

      Interesting hub. In truth, I find the entire legal system disappointing and in need of a serious overhaul. Too many antiquated laws and, speaking from personal experience, the process is more about money than it is about seeking truth and justice.

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      Very interesting post onlaw. As a lawyer i liked it

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you very much.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 4 years ago from West By God

      Great article and I think that I understand the reasons behind that a lot better now. Voted up.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      You are totally right about what the Judge lets in or doesn't let it, but all good attorneys should try.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      This huge construct of not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted is critical. Motivation about a statement is sometimes more true than the statement. To arrive at a res gestae sometimes we need background and a sense of being in that moment. My favorite is: your honor we do not offer this clearly hearsay evidence for the truth but to establish the heat of the moment, to bring into context other evidence that is circumstantial at best. If a lame judge lets an attorney say that outloud/as opposed to in camera or sidebar/ The attorney is in control of the courtroom and will mightely influence the jury.

      But I don't know much.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Yes, you may be able to do something. You should contact a lawyer

    • profile image

      marie 6 years ago

      some woman has said a few bad things about me.she told a friend of hers.than the friend said it to my ex.he told me. can i do anything about it.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Good luck with that. Thanks for reading

    • profile image

      womah chinwe 6 years ago

      i need an abstract write up on hearsay evidence. and also a conclusive write up on hearsay evidence

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Well good luck on your exam.

      Depending on who said the statement, they are not hearsay. It is not hearsay if it is not being offered to prove the matter asserted. So what someone said, especially the adverse party, before that was consistent or inconsitent is not being offered to prove the matter asserted. It is being offered to prove what they said before either to impeach or bolster or clarify. Therefore, it is not hearsay and not subject to the hearsay rule analsysis.

    • profile image

      hopeless law student 7 years ago

      I'm about to take an evidence exam and was wondering if you could clarify a little about hearsay. Under 801 of the FRE, the rules talk about prior consistent and inconsistent statements not being hearsay. Can you please explain how these are used. I'm a little foggy on this.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I totally agree David. Oh, that that property rule, I dare not even say its name for it perpectually bothers me.

      Thanks for reading.

    • attorneydavid profile image

      attorneydavid 7 years ago from Memphis

      explaining this to clients is part of what sucks about being a family lawyer

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California


      Your two reasons why hearsay evidence can't be used are exactly right. The exceptions are confusing. I spent half a semester in lawschool and weeks in bar prep trying to understand them all, to some avail. Funny part, in some states some of the exceptions are not exceptions just not considered Hearsay. The main point is to ensure statements made outside the courthouse are reliable. That is pretty much all you need to known.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Glad you've explained some of the hearsay evidence business, bg. My husband and I often get into arguments while watching movies or TV on what constitutes hearsay evidence - it's the exceptions that confuse me. One big reason that they can't use hearsay evidence is probably because people could just lie. Or hear things wrong.


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