What is Hearsay?

Hearsay is information about a statement that was made out-of-court by a person other than the witness during courtroom testimony. For example, if a witness takes the stand and says that he or she was told by the defendant’s friend that the defendant committed the crime, this would be classified as hearsay since the witness did not hear the statement from the defendant.

If this information is submitted as evidence, it is referred to as hearsay evidence. The Hearsay Rule defines hearsay and allows for exceptions and exemptions from the rule. The Federal Rules of Evidence defines hearsay as 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.”

In order to analyze whether a statement is considered hearsay under the Federal Rules of Evidence, a judge will use a three-step analysis. A statement may be classified as hearsay if it is: (1) an asserted statement; (2) made by a declarant out of court; (3) is offered to prove that the information asserted is true.

The rule against hearsay is designed to prohibit a person from testifying that a statement is a fact unless the person who allegedly made the statement can be brought to court to testify.

The theory about the Hearsay Rule is that many statements made by people are unreliable. Statements are often subject to flaws due to a person’s memory or perception or the person may have errors with narration when recounting an event. Therefore, the information must be scrutinized or analyzed to learn and expose the possible weaknesses and to ensure that the judge or jury does not inflate the value of the testimony.

There are three tests that are used to expose problems or weaknesses with a statement. They are: (1) the statements must be made under oath; (2) the statements must be made in front of a judge or jury; (3) the statements must be subject to cross examination.

There are several misconceptions about the Hearsay Rule. The most common misconception is that hearsay is never admissible in court. While the general rule is that hearsay evidence is inadmissible, there are 30 exceptions according to the Federal Rules of Evidence.