What Are Some Common Exceptions To Hearsay? Evidence – Part VI

Are There Exceptions To Hearsay?

It may seem that the hearsay rule would make court proceedings very difficult.  If statements other than those made in the current proceeding cannot be used as evidence, it might seem it would be very hard to challenge anything anyone said.

For instance, what if, in a criminal case, Charles testified that he shot Larry, and then, when sued by Larry’s family, tried to deny it?  The previous testimony by Charles would, according to the basic definition of hearsay, be hearsay.  It would be a statement, made outside of the current court proceeding and Larry’s family would be using it to show the “truth of the matter asserted” – that Charles shot Larry.

But can it really be true that Charles can admit in one case that he committed homicide but then in a civil case, deny it, and no one can challenge him about his prior statement?

What Are The Exemptions to Hearsay

This unjust result and problems like it are largely avoided by two very important exceptions to the normal rule that statements meeting the definition of hearsay are excluded.  These are as follows:

First, when a witness is subjected to cross examination, as Charles would be in this case, the lawyer cross-examining can use prior inconsistent testimony of that witness as evidence.

In this case, that would mean that the lawyer cross examining Charles could use Charles’ prior testimony that he shot Larry  because it is inconsistent with his present testimony that he did not shoot Larry.  However this rule goes both ways – lawyers can also use consistent prior statements to help show that a witness is telling the truth if one side or the other attempts to show that the witness is lying.

Second, Larry’s family can use any statement by Charles, whether it is inconsistent or not because Charles is a “party” to their lawsuit.  That is, Larry’s family sued Charles for his role in Larry’s death.  Charles is therefore the “defendant” and a “defendant” is a “party” to a lawsuit.

Almost any statements made by a party or a party’s authorized representative can be used against the party without being subject to the hearsay rule.  As a point of interest, this is often why police officers, for instance, are allowed repeat in court what the defendant in a case told them.

The defendant is a party, and if he made a statement to the police, the police could use it against him even though it would otherwise fit the definition of hearsay.  As a party in a lawsuit, anything you say or have ever said, can and will be used against you as far as the hearsay rules are concerned.

More Information About Hearsay

As mentioned in previous posts, there are, depending on how you count, around thirty enumerated exceptions to the rule that hearsay is not to be admitted into evidence. 

The most common and important of these have been addressed in the last two posts, but others can, depending on the situation, become important also.  Retaining a lawyer who has a good understanding of the rules of evidence will go a long way toward making sure the evidence that should be heard in your case is presented, and the evidence that shouldn’t is excluded.