"Objection, hearsay!" What hearsay evidence means in court
If you watched the Heard-Depp defamation trial, you might have found the heated arguments and “hearsays” between the lawyers funny. But have you ever wondered what “hearsay” or “hearsay evidence” means while chuckling at the drama?
Why do lawyers raise these objections, and what makes a statement “hearsay evidence”?
In this article, we’ll answer all these questions. But first, let’s define what hearsay is.
What is hearsay?
A statement being hearsay evidence is one of the most common trial objections.
Under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 801(c), “hearsay” means a statement that: (1) the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing; and (2) a party offers evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.”
Here’s an example:
The fact in question is whether Jenny’s father beat her mother, and you are called a witness to the case.
“Jenny told me that her father beat her mother all night.”
When you say this in court, this warrants an “Objection, hearsay!” from the opposing counsel.
The testimony you’re offering is to prove the fact that Jenny’s father did beat her mother, which is only second-hand information you obtained from Jenny. Clearly, you’re not a witness to the beating, but a mere reporter of the said information. You’re testifying about what Jenny said, not what Jenny saw.
To put it simply, hearsay evidence is a statement, in verbal or written form, produced or made out of court, offered into evidence by someone other than the declarant themselves.
Now, if this is hearsay, then…
When is a statement admissible evidence?
If it’s Jenny who testifies that her father beat her mother all night, then it’s not hearsay but admissible evidence. It’s also admissible if Jenny’s mother testifies that Jenny’s father beat her.
So, what’s the difference between hearsay and admissible evidence?
You see, Jenny could be an observer or a witness. Meanwhile, Jenny’s mother is a party to the case, which makes her testimony admissible evidence, too.
Therefore, to find out the credibility of Jenny’s testimony and her mother’s allegations, they must testify in court. Their first-hand account of the events is the most reliable form of evidence, as their statements can only be verified by themselves. To consider the reliability of their testimonies, it is necessary that they undergo cross-examination to reveal any inaccuracies or inconsistencies. Such things can’t be done if you’re speaking for someone else.
In other words, it’s only hearsay evidence when someone testifies on another person’s statement to make a point—a classic “he said” or “she said.” For example, if you were to only testify that Jenny spoke with you that night, it may be acceptable non-hearsay because your statement is not being used to prove the assertion that Jenny’s father beat her mother.
Whether it’s a question leading to hearsay or an answer leading to hearsay, it can easily be called out as hearsay evidence. This can be a little confusing, even to lawyers who’ve been around for a while.
If you’re in trouble for this kind of violent crime, you need to hire lawyers who have a lot of experience with domestic violence cases. They will know which statements may hurt your case and which should be objected to as hearsay evidence.
Now, why is it important to object to hearsay evidence?
Imagine if all crimes had witnesses testifying about something they only heard. It would be a circus if parties could use witnesses attesting to second-hand accounts and not personal experience!
Letting unreliable hearsay statements be used as proof can make it difficult for the jury to figure out which version of events is the most accurate.
That’s why there are laws that say witnesses can only testify to what they have seen, heard, or otherwise experienced for themselves.
Are there exceptions to the hearsay rule?
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Here are a few:
- Party admission – when the party admits about the happening even before the lawsuit was made
- Excited utterance – a statement made while under the stress or duress of an event
- Medical diagnosis or treatment – a statement you made to a doctor to seek treatment
- Unavailable declarant – either the declarant is dead, prohibited or mentally unable to testify, or cannot be located
- Public record – records in public domain like birth certificates, marriage certificates, church records, etc.
Final thoughts on hearsay evidence
Now that we’ve laid down the basics of hearsay, you can see why it’s vital to have the assistance of experienced defense lawyers to detect and avoid using hearsay evidence in court.