Hearsay Under the Federal Rules of Evidence

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Hearsay, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, constitutes an out-of-court statement offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 801 defines what statements are considered hearsay, while Rule 802 establishes the general rule that hearsay is not admissible. The theory behind the hearsay rule is that statements made out of court and under oath are not reliable, and therefore should not be used as evidence against a criminal defendant.

Hearsay Defined

Rule 801 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 simpler terms, it refers to any statement made outside of the courtroom that is being used in court to prove something.

Statement: A statement is a person’s oral assertion, written assertion, or nonverbal conduct that is intended as an assertion. For example, a witness may testify that the defendant told the witness that he had never committed tax evasion in his life but also winked knowingly and smiled at the witness while saying it. A hearsay objection would be sustained on multiple grounds because the testimony includes an oral statement made out of court and nonverbal conduct (the wink) intended to demonstrate that the defendant had, in fact, committed tax evasion.

Declarant: The declarant is the person who made the statement. For example, in a possession of a controlled substance case, the witness testifies that the defendant told a confidential informant the price of the drugs. The declarant in this case is the defendant because he made the out of court statement.

Offered to Prove the Truth of the Matter Asserted: In order to be considered hearsay, the proponent of the evidence must be intending to introduce the statement to prove something. For example, a witness is called to the stand and testifies, “the defendant told me he was at the bank on the day of the bank robbery.” This statement is hearsay because it is being offered to prove that the defendant went to the bank that day in order to rob the bank.

Hearsay is Inadmissible

The overarching rule promulgated by Rule 802 is that hearsay is not admissible. Notwithstanding this fact, there are numerous exceptions which can apply to certain scenarios that make hearsay admissible. However, those exceptions must meet stringent requirements. Furthermore, some out of court statements are considered “not hearsay,” because they are otherwise reliable.

Examples of Hearsay

Out-of-court statements: Suppose a witness in a wire fraud trial is called to the stand and testifies, “John told me he saw the defendant commit the crime on his computer.” This statement by the witness is hearsay because it relies on an out-of-court statement made by John to assert the truth of the defendant’s guilt. A hearsay objection to this testimony would be sustained and the testimony would be stricken or excluded altogether.

Written statements: An officer testifies about a report they did not author but received, claiming, “the report said the suspect was at the scene.” This is hearsay because it is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the suspect’s presence. A hearsay objection to this testimony would be sustained.

If you have been charged a crime, it is necessary that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive knowledge of the Federal Rules of Evidence and the concept of hearsay, which could be critical for your case.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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