Have you ever watched the all-too-common scene on a legal drama where a witness is emotionally testifying on the stand and attempts to share what they heard from someone else about the defendant? An attorney then grows angry, jumps up, and yells “hearsay,” signaling that the judge must decide whether to allow the statement as evidence in the case. Although dramatized for television, hearsay is an incredibly important doctrine in all cases, but especially in criminal matters.
I Know The Word, but What Does It Really Mean?
Broadly defined, hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered as evidence to prove the “truth of the matter asserted.” In other words, hearsay is a statement made by someone who has no first-hand knowledge of what he is saying but who is telling you what someone else has said or told him. Hearsay “statements” are not limited to spoken words but can also include things such as written statements or even nonverbal conduct such as a nod or a shrug.
For example, if a witness wanted to share that their neighbor had heard the defendant say, “I was at her house,” this would be considered hearsay because the neighbor is not present in court and cannot answer questions from the court or counsel about how the statement was made, the defendant's demeanor while making the statement, etc. In this case, if the defendant's criminal defense attorney can successfully argue that the testimony constitutes hearsay, the court will rule that the testimony must be stricken from the record and instruct the jury not to consider it as evidence in reaching their verdict.
Circumventing Hearsay Rules May Save Your Case
While most of the time, attorneys seek to exclude hearsay statements to maintain their client's innocence, there are cases where hearsay statements can actually help prove your innocence. For example, using the earlier scenario, the neighbor may have told the defendant that the victim died, to which he excitedly replied in shock, “What happened! I can't believe she died!” This statement is considered an “excited utterance” and is one of many hearsay exceptions. Although there are quite a few exceptions, some include the following:
- Statements about existing physical or mental conditions such as “my leg is broken,” or “I am drunk.”
- Statements made while dying, such as “Jim shot me.”
- Public record documents such as a marriage certificate.
Don't Go to Jail on Bad Evidence. Contact an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney.
Criminal cases turn on evidence, and “he said, she said” statements can easily lead to a guilty conviction. If you are unsure of what an exception to the hearsay rule is or if it could be applicable to your case, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm can help. Don't let bad evidence put you in jail. Call us at 888-535-3686 or tell us about your case using our online contact form.