Hearsay Rule Explained

One of the most common objections used in a criminal trial is the rule against hearsay. The rule against hearsay is complex and full of exceptions. Hearsay is an out of court statement, made in court, to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, hearsay is evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated. For example, Witness A in a murder trial claimed on the stand: “Witness B (the “declarant”) told me that the defendant killed the victim.” The definition of hearsay is not too difficult to understand but the matter can become very confusing when one considers all of the many exceptions to the general rule against hearsay.

Even if a statement meets the requirements for hearsay, the statement may yet be admissible under one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) contains nearly thirty of these exceptions. Most of them are generally available, although a few of them are limited to times when the declarant is unavailable.

There are twenty-four exceptions in the federal rules that do not require proof that the person who made the statement is unavailable. These are:

Business records, including those of a public agency

Certain public records and reports

Evidence of a judgment of conviction for certain purposes

Evidence of the absence of a business record or entry

Excited utterances or spontaneous statements

Family records concerning family history

Judgments of a court concerning personal history, family history, general history, or

boundaries, where those matters were essential to the judgment

Learned treatises used to question an expert witness

Market reports, commercial publications, and the like

Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates

Past recollections recorded

Recorded documents purporting to affect interests in land

Records of religious organizations concerning personal or family history

Records of vital statistics

Reputation concerning boundaries or general history

Reputation concerning family history

Reputation of a person’s character

Statements about the declarant’s present sense impressions

Statements about the declarant’s then 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

Statements made by the declarant for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment

Statements of the absence of a public record or entry

The “catchall” rule

The last exception, the so-called “catchall” rule, bears some explanation. This rule does not require that the declarant be unavailable to testify. It does say that evidence of a hearsay statement not included in one of the other exceptions may nevertheless be admitted if it meets these following conditions:

It has sound guarantees of trustworthiness

It is offered to help prove a material fact

It is more probative than other equivalent and reasonably obtainable evidence

Its admission would forward the cause of justice

The other parties have been notified that it will be offered into evidence

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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