What is the Hearsay Rule?

The hearsay rule is used by both the defense and the prosecution to exclude unfounded information from court proceedings. The general idea of the hearsay rule is fairly simple to understand. Hearsay, or testimony based on what others have said, is usually not admissible in court. This is to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial based on factual, truthful information.

What is Hearsay?

Hearsay is commonly known as gossip, rumors or unfounded information. It includes testimony or documents that quote people who are not available to speak to the court. Hearsay is usually inadmissible in court, unless the judge has already ruled that it can be accepted as verification of the topic in question.

Hearsay may be testimony by a police officer about what someone else said, even if that testimony was written in the original police report. For the statement to be used in court, it usually has to be uttered by the person who originally said it.

Rules About Hearsay

The hearsay rule may seem fairly straightforward, but in actuality, it holds many, many exceptions. It helps guarantee that only factual evidence is used to prove guilt or innocence.

Hearsay can be very damaging to a case, even after it has been ruled out by a judge and stricken from the record. If the jury members hear a statement during testimony, it is difficult for them to forget it. Therefore, if an attorney has reason to believe a witness may give hearsay testimony, he files an objection before the actual testimony is made.

The hearsay rule is based on the idea that if you cannot see the person making the statement, you cannot judge their character or weigh how the statement was said. In addition, the defense does not have the option to question the witness about the validity of the statement.

Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule

Although the basis for the hearsay rule is fairly simple, there are about 30 exceptions. Some of these exceptions include:

  • Public records and documents (certificates of marriage, birth and divorce)
  • Records of family history
  • Statements from authentic documents that are at least 20 years old
  • Official notarized documents (contracts and promissory notes)
  • Prior testimony of an unavailable witness
  • Income tax returns and employment information
  • Admissions and confessions
  • Recorded past recollections