You may have heard the term “hearsay” before but what exactly does that mean when it comes to a criminal court case? This is defined as a statement made by an individual to a witness, who later repeats that statement while in court, during testifying. Typically, a court will not allow hearsay to be used as evidence during a criminal trial. A ban – known as the hearsay rule – during trial is designed to keep members of the jury from taking into account secondhand information.
Hearsay is not Reliable Information
The evidence presented during a trial should be reliable. This is why this rule exists – because hearsay is an out of court statement, made in court, to prove the truth of the matter. The jury should not hear it, which often is considered to be gossip, and accept it as truth, which could lead to severe consequences for the criminal defendant. Witnesses to a crime are asked to make their statements in court so that the lawyers on both sides of the case can cross-examine him or her. It, then, is up to the jury to decide if that witness is speaking the truth. A witness is told, prior to testifying, that he or she can’t reference what someone else told them when recalling the crime.
There are exceptions to the rule, however. For example, if a statement is made to prove something other than the context of the statement, it is not labeled by the legal system as hearsay. One of the exceptions when it comes to presenting hearsay in court is if the information is part of a business or official record. Business and official public records are allowable in court because they are believed to be reliable sources. In addition, statements made by individuals who are about to pass away often are OK because the person is unable to appear in court. This would not be considered hearsay either.
More Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule
The following are some examples of exceptions in the federal rules that do not require proof that the person who made the statement is unavailable:
- Family records, concerning family matters;
- Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates;
- Recorded documents purporting to affect interests in land;
- Records of religious organizations concerning personal or family history;
- Records of vital statistics;
- Reputation of a person’s character;
- Statements about the defendant’s existing mental, emotional, or physical condition;
- Statements in authentic ancient documents (at least 20 years old);
- Statements in other documents purporting to affect interests in land and relevant to the purpose of the document; and
- Statements made by the declarant for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment.