If you’ve watched pretty much any show or movie with a courtroom scene, then you’ve probably seen a lawyer object to something in a trial based on the fact that it’s hearsay. But what, exactly, is hearsay and why can’t it be used in court? Oceanside criminal defense lawyer Peter M. Liss explains.
What is Hearsay?
To some extent, hearsay is exactly what it sounds like -secondhand testimony from someone who is saying what they heard someone else say. In the court, this means trying to present evidence based on something someone said when the person who actually made the statement isn’t actually there to serve as a witness.
Why isn’t Hearsay Admissible?
If the person who made a statement isn’t there to present it, then it can be nearly impossible to establish the credibility of the statement or to cross-examine them. Given that these are critical constitutional elements of the criminal justice system, hearsay isn’t allowed in most cases. Of course, hearsay only becomes inadmissible when someone objects to it, which is why it’s important to work with a skilled Oceanside defense attorney who will notice when someone uses hearsay in court. That being said, there are always exemptions.
When Can Hearsay be Used in Court?
There are exceptions to every rule and that includes the hearsay rule. You probably don’t need to know these for yourself as long as you have a good Oceanside criminal lawyer representing you who will know these exceptions by heart. Even so, it never hurts to learn more about the law, so these are some examples of when hearsay is still admissible:
- Excited utterances: In the criminal justice system, this means when someone makes a truly impulsive statement in conjunction with some event that would make them so excited they would not have the presence of mind to lie or give a false statement. For example, if someone set up a fake Go Fund Me for a friend and it received over $10,000 in donations in one day, the person who set it up might exclaim, “You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to set up a Go Fund Me without anyone checking that what you say is actually true. People are so gullible” In this case, hearsay could be admitted in the case against the person who raised the money.
- Statements against interest. This essentially means someone confessing something that could adversely affect them. These are usually admissible because someone is generally not going to confess to something that could get them in trouble unless they actually did it. A good example would be a teacher who tells a friend about that they think a child may be getting abused, but they don’t want to report it because they’re not sure. Because teachers must report even potential abuse, this could be used as evidence against him if he is charged with failing to report abuse.
- Matter of record: Properly kept records can be admitted in court in most cases. Government records, including court documents (even a transcript including witness testimony from past cases), are almost always admissible. Privately kept records are usually admissible as long as there is a qualified witness available to identify them and explain them. As long as the authenticity can be verified in some way, most records can be used in court.
- State of Mind: Hearsay is a statement made out of court that was admitted in court for the truth of the matter asserted. So, if the statement is admitted for exploring the person’s state of mind and not for the truth of the statement, then it can be properly admitted as evidence.
If you have any questions about the concept of hearsay or you want to make sure you have an Oceanside criminal defense attorney who will always protect you from hearsay, please call Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
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