Hearsay is defined as an out of court statement offered in court against a defendant “for the truth of the matter asserted.” It is based on the Sixth Amendment right afforded those who are accused of a criminal offense to confront witnesses against them. “Confront” means the right to challenge the statement of the witness with cross-examination questions.
One simple example of hearsay is if a witness is presented at trial who claims, “My boyfriend told me that Mr. Smith is the one who committed the crime.” That is hearsay. The out-of-court statement was made by the declarant, the boyfriend, and the statement will not be admitted at the criminal trial as proof that the defendant, Mr. Smith, committed the crime. It is the boyfriend who is the witness against the defendant and it is the boyfriend who the accused has a right to confront. Your Jacksonville criminal defense attorney will know how to prevent witnesses from testifying to hearsay statements.
Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule
Almost every rule has an exception, and there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule. Here are just a few examples:
- An excited utterance: This is a statement made at a time when the person who made it was under stress or excitement caused by the event about which the witness is testifying. In our scenario about the boyfriend, if the witness testifies that her boyfriend was lying on the ground, having just been shot, and said to her, “Mr. Smith shot me,” as she saw Mr. Smith running down the street, the statement is an excited utterance and the testimony will be admitted.
- A statement of then existing mental, emotional or physical condition: In the example, the witness could testify that her boyfriend told her the day before he was shot that he was afraid Mr. Smith would shoot him. This shows the declarant’s mental state prior to being shot. It does not prove the declarant had a reason to be afraid, but only as to his then existing state of mind.
- Statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment: In our scenario, medical staff at the emergency room treating the shooting victim could testify that the victim told them that “Mr. Smith shot me.” This is not offered as proof that Mr. Smith was the shooter, but only of the information provided to medical personnel for treatment.