What is Hearsay?
Hearsay is an out of court statement that is introduced at trial to show the truth of the matter it asserts. In other words, it’s a statement that someone or something outside the courtroom made. That statement is then being introduced during trial and the goal of the introduction of the statement is to show that the statement was accurate.
Example of Hearsay: Let’s assume there was a Sheriff Deputy who arrived on a crime scene. The Sheriff Deputy interviewed 5 witnesses. One of the witnesses told the Deputy that he saw the Defendant stealing a pack of cigarettes. Now let’s assume that this case ends up going to trial and that same witness doesn’t show up for trial. Only the Deputy shows up for trial. If the Deputy attempted to introduce that witnesses’s statement that he saw the Defendant stealing a pack of cigarettes, the Defense would object to the Court, stating that this is hearsay.
The Court should sustain that objection because, (a) it’s an out of court statement, and (b) the only purpose of introducing this statement is to show that the Defendant stole the cigarettes. Therefore, it’s hearsay and inadmissible during trial.
Are Observations Hearsay?
However, observations are NOT hearsay. Let’s take that last example that we just gave regarding the witness actually seeing the Defendant take the cigarettes. Let’s assume at that same trial the witness actually showed up and testified. However instead of testifying to what was said, he testifies to what he OBSERVED. That is no longer hearsay and that evidence should come in. It comes in because it doesn’t fit prong (a) listed directly above which is “a statement.” An observation is not a statement and therefore it is not hearsay. That evidence comes in.
Introduced not for the truth of the matter it asserts:
Let’s talk about the other prong listed directly above, prong (b). According to prong (b) a statement is hearsay only if it is introduced for the truth of the matter it asserts. In other words, a statement about a guy stealing cigarettes is not admissible to show the guy stole the cigarettes. But, what if the the theft of the cigarettes wasn’t the point of the trial? What if the case was for an armed robbery on the other side of town at the exact same time. A witness report that Defendant STOLE cigarettes at the exact same time he was committing an armed robbery on the other side of town, might come in because the purpose of introducing the statement is NOT to show that the Defendant took cigarettes, but to show something like “Opportunity.” How could the Defendant be two places at once? In that example, the statement is NOT hearsay because it’s introduction has nothing to do with the actual truth of the words themselves.
Hearsay in Different Forms (written vs Oral):
Hearsay can be written statements or oral statements. Hearsay even includes things like license plates and databases. Anything that “asserts something out of court” and then is later brought in to “assert the exact same thing in court” is probably hearsay. This is probably a bit oversimplified but you get the point.
Exceptions to Hearsay: So we’ve discussed some ways to get what-appears-to-be-hearsay statements into court as “non statements” or “introduced not for the truth of the matter assertive.” But is there anything else? The answer is yes. The Florida Evidence Code lasts our numerous exceptions to Hearsay. In other words, those out of court statements that are introduced for the truth of the matter asserted, but they STILL COME IN because of some specifically enumerated exception. Why do we have exceptions? The exceptions to traditional hearsay are considered inherently reliable, thus they are allowed in. Click here for some statutory language on exceptions to hearsay. Pretty straight forward. We will discuss the Exceptions to Hearsay in another portion of our discussions.