Posts Tagged ‘hearsay’

What is hearsay?  In life, as in the courtroom, people like to make decisions based on first hand information.  Outside the law, people will often discount as “hearsay” information that is unreliable that they have heard from other people.  So too, in law, lawyers try to make sure that information comes directly from people first hand.   Hearsay is a complex system of rules and exceptions to rules that come from ancient England and that are embodied in our evidence rules.  For example, a witness says “John told me Mike robbed the bank”.  Since the witness did not see Mike rob the bank, the statement would be hearsay evidence to the fact that Mike robbed the bank.  Such a statement would be inadmissible, and it is the job of a mock trial student to object to such evidence.  “Objection hearsay!”  The judge will sustain such objections.  No one would want to be convicted of a criminal offense based on such second hand information.

Coaches for mock trial teams often simply tell their students to object whenever one witness attempts to quote another person.  This is probably good advice.  Often a mock trial lawyer will miss many potential objections.  It is then the job of the opposing attorney to then know what exception to the hearsay rule that he or she is relying on.  Here is a list of several exceptions to the hearsay rule:

1.    Confessions.  A witness is almost always allowed to quote a person who confesses to a criminal offense, or makes a statement against his or her interest.

2.    Excited Utterances. A witness is usually allowed to quote another person who was very excited or scared or agitated at the time.  It is thought that person in such a state would be in no shape to concoct fabrications, and thus most be telling the truth.  For example, a police officer arrives on the scene of a bank after an alarm is sounded.  A hysterical teller blurts out that “Mike” a former employee demanded money at gunpoint.  The police officer would be able to quote the teller as to the identity of the robber.  However, it is the job of a mock trial lawyer to establish the state of mind of the teller.

3.   Business Records. A witness who maintains record for a business or agency is generally allowed to admit the content of those records into court.  For example, a bookkeeper at a convenient store can introduce receipts for purchases of fuel by a getaway car even though he or she was not working on the day of the robbery.

4. Prior Statements Under Oath. Statements made at a prior court proceeding are generally admissible if the witness later becomes unavailable.  For example, if a teller witnesses a robbery and is questioned in court about that robbery, and ends up dying before trial, that earlier testimony would be admissible at a later trial.

5.   Statements Made for Purpose of Medical Diagnosis. Generally, a doctor or nurse is allowed to quote a patient as to statements made about their medical condition.  For example, a nurse may testify that a patient complained that injuries were cause by a beating during a robbery.  However the nurse may not quote the patient as to who, in particular, caused the injuries.

Knowing the hearsay exceptions is a good way for a mock trial lawyer to score points in a trial.

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