If you have ever seen a courtroom drama on television or in a movie, there is a good chance you have heard one of the lawyers dramatically announce: “Objection! Hearsay!”
Did you ever wonder what exactly hearsay is?
If so, read on.
Hearsay Is A Statement Made By Someone Other Than The Witness
Basically, hearsay is a statement that is offered in court through a witness who did not make the statement.
For example, if I testify that “I did not see the accident, but my wife told me that . . .,” whatever follows is probably going to be hearsay. That’s because I am, in effect, testifying for my wife. Because she is not present and testifying under oath, cannot be cross-examined by an opposing lawyer about her observations and cannot be observed and had her credibility judged by the jury, this is deemed to be unreliable evidence. It is not admissible.
It Is Only Hearsay If It Is Introduced To Prove The Truth Of The Statement
This is the official definition of hearsay under Section 5-801 (c) of the Maryland Rules: “‘Hearsay’ is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”
As you see from the last phrase of the definition, a statement is only hearsay, assuming it meets the other parts of the definition, if it is offered in evidence “to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”
In my earlier example, I was attempting to testify to what my wife said about how the accident happened in order to prove how the accident happened. No can do.
On the other hand, if a statement is not offered to prove its truth, even if it was made by someone other than the witness, the statement is not hearsay and, unless there is another basis for an objection, it is admissible.
Let’s say, for example, that I want to testify that I approached a pedestrian who had been hit by a car immediately after the accident, and he said that he was George Washington and that he was late for dinner with Martha.
This statement is not hearsay because it is not introduced to prove that the victim is actually George Washington. Instead, it is offered to prove that the victim was delirious and hallucinating, perhaps to support his claim that he suffered a head injury when he was struck by the car.
Exceptions To The Hearsay Rule
As I said, hearsay is excluded because it is not considered to be reliable.
However, a number of exceptions to the rule — we have more than 30 in Maryland — have been developed because the circumstances surrounding the out-of-court statement make it reliable.
One example is the so-called “Excited Utterance” – a statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition. These statements are considered reliable because they were blurted out spontaneously without thinking about the “right” thing to say.
Another example is a “Dying Declaration” – these are admissible based on the notion that deathbed statements are inherently reliable.
Another example that I encounter regularly in my accident and injury cases is a statement made for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment. Usually this involves a doctor testifying to what a patient said about their symptoms and condition. The patient’s statements are considered reliable because only a fool with a death wish would want their medical diagnosis and treatment to be based on false information.
Now that you know more about hearsay, you can check the accuracy of movie and television use of the rule, and you can play judge and rule on the “Objection! Hearsay!” I can hear you now . . . “Denied. The statement is not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Therefore, it is not hearsay.” You’re good.
**These questions and answers are designed to provide helpful information that can be read quickly. They are neither a full explanation of the subject nor legal advice. To learn more, and to receive legal advice on which you can rely, contact me or another lawyer.