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a rule that declares not admissible as evidence any statement other than that by a witness while testifying at the hearing and offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter stated. The hearsay statement may be oral or written and includes nonverbal conduct intended as a substitute for words (such as a nodding of the head). If, for example, a witness' statement as to what he or she heard another person say is elicited to prove the truth of what that other person said, it is hearsay. If, however, it is elicited to merely show that the words were spoken, it is not hearsay. The witness' answer will be admissible only to show that the other person spoke certain words and not to show the truth of what the other person said. The reason for the hearsay rule is that the credibility of the witness is the key ingredient in weighing the truth of his or her statement; so when that statement is made out of court, without benefit of cross-examination and without the witness' demenor being subject to assessment by the trier of fact (judge or jury), there is generally no adequate basis for determining whether the out-of-court statement is true.
EXAMPLE: Defendant Doug is on trial for robbing Victim Vinnie, Witness Walt wants to testify that Bartender Bart told Walt that Doug had admitted to Bart the commission of the robbery. Walt's testimony would be hearsay if it were offered to prove the truth of the matter (Doug confessed) since Doug did not tell Walt. (Note, however, that if Bart himself were to testify it would not be hearsay since he heard the confession and may be cross-examined about the circumstances). If Walt's testimony were offered for a purpose other than the truth of the confession (such as to establish that Bart was an extremely close friend of Doug and that Doug confided in Bart his closest secrets), some courts would allow the testimony.
Hearsay is prohibited due to the constitutional guarantee of confrontation (see confrontation clause); however, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule of exclusion based on a combination of trustworthiness and necessity. Thus, official written statements, such as payroll records, where the declarant's statements are based on firsthand knowledge and where the officer is under an official duty to make the report (and hence has no motive to falsify) are admissible under the BUSINESS RECORDS EXCEPTION. Another common exception is made for DYING DECLARATIONS. Under this rule a statement made by a person with knowledge or hopeless expectation of his or her impending death is admissible through another who overheard that statement where the declarant is unavailable because he or she died. Originally it was strongly believed that a dying person would tell the truth; thus the witness' testimony as to what the dying declarant said became admissible both on the grounds of trustworthiness and necessity. Today, with more skepticism about the effect of religiosity of truth-telling, necessity remains as a major factor in determining admissibility. The question of the witness' credibility is subject to demeanor examination and cross-examination for bias, memory, etc. Some jurisdictions permit any admission by a party to be offered by his or her adversary in a civil proceeding through any competent witness as another broad exception to the hearsay rule.
See and compare admission by a party-opponent; declaration against interest; evidence.
Source: Barron's Dictionary of Legal Terms, Steven H. Gifis, 5th Edition; ©
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