If your criminal case goes to trial, your attorney and the opposing counsel will have to gather evidence to support their respective cases. The law has strict rules regarding what types of information the courts can allow as evidence. One type of information that constantly toes the line between admissible and inadmissible is hearsay.
Hearsay refers to out-of-court, second-hand statements that either party tries to use as evidence in court to prove the truth of the matter. Though hearsay commonly takes the form of verbal statements, it can also manifest as body language or written documents. The courts generally consider hearsay “gossip” and, therefore, do not view it favorably.
That said, hearsay evidence is not automatically inadmissible. According to FindLaw, the Federal Rules of Evidence provide 23 exceptions to the general hearsay rule. It is important to note that the exceptions do not apply to all cases and that states can pick and choose which exceptions they allow.
Most common hearsay exceptions
Of the nearly two dozen exceptions the FRE provides, the courts see three of them most frequently. They are as follows:
- Excited Utterance: The courts may allow the reutterance of an exclamation that the plaintiff or defendant made while under the stress or excitement of the event in question.
- Present Sense Impression: The courts will allow a hearsay statement that explains or describes a condition or event and that occurred during or immediately following it.
- Then-Existing Emotional, Mental or Physical Condition: If hearsay attempts to show a person’s state of mind or physical condition during an event rather than to prove a truth, the courts may allow it.
Second-most common hearsay exceptions
Aside from the three aforementioned exceptions, the courts will generally allow second-hand statements or information that fall within one of three categories. The first is medical. If a person makes a statement to a medical provider and the provider then shares that statement in court, the judge may allow it.
If a hearsay statement pertains to a person’s reputation, his or her family, or her or her land, the judge may allow it. Finally, if either party submits documents as evidence, such as government records, business records, learned treatises or the like, the courts may consider it.