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Understanding hearsay evidence

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Most everyone has seen defense attorneys and prosecutors on TV shows and in movies object to certain testimony as inadmissible because it’s “hearsay.” That often happens in real life as well. However, there are times when hearsay evidence is admissible.

What is hearsay evidence?

It’s essentially an out-of-court statement that’s presented in court as evidence. For example, if your brother’s girlfriend testifies that your brother told her you came home the night of your alleged crime bloody and disheveled, that would be hearsay. If your brother himself testified to that, it would be a first-hand account of what says he witnessed.

Hearsay doesn’t have to be a verbal statement. Documents and even body language can be considered hearsay.

Hearsay evidence often is not admissible because the person who made the statement is not there testifying under oath and they can’t be cross-examined. Even statements given by witnesses to an alleged crime and included in a police report are often hearsay if the witnesses themselves are not there to testify to what they saw or heard.

When may hearsay evidence be allowed?

There are a number of exceptions to the hearsay rule in federal and state law when hearsay evidence can be presented in court. For example, an “excited utterance” or what Missouri law describes as a “spontaneous declaration,” can often be used.

This is often a statement made by a person during or just after an event. Take that police report we just mentioned. If a person told a police officer that the defendant had just robbed them or told an emergency responder that they had just been raped, that would typically be allowed as evidence.

If a judge admits hearsay evidence under one of the many exceptions to the hearsay rule, a defense attorney can then call in to question the credibility of the person presenting that evidence. They may point to bias, inconsistent statements and other issues that indicate that the witness might be not accurately remembering or even lying.

This is just one of many reasons why it’s essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you if you’ve been charged with a crime. They can present your defense and protect your rights.