Hearsay Definition in Pennsylvania
Hearsay is testimony that includes the words or ideas of someone else. For example, if a witness to a truck accident testifies in court, this witness generally needs to address only their own observations of the accident. A lawyer should not ask them what the passenger in their vehicle witnessed—unless there is a compelling reason to do so and the situation meets one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. Instead, a lawyer should call their passenger as a witness, as well.
Is Hearsay Allowed in Court?
In general, hearsay is not admissible as evidence in court. Without a firsthand witness, we may not be able to submit certain concepts as facts in your case. If the person the witness is quoting is not available to testify themselves, then it is impossible to prove the testimony represents what they actually saw or said. This makes hearsay extremely unreliable. Occasionally, there may be an exception when the courts allow hearsay as evidence, but this is relatively rare.
Are There Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule?
Each court has its own rules of evidence. These rules include the exceptions that allow hearsay. We can explain the rules based on the court that hears your case and possibly use one of these exceptions to argue for them to admit hearsay statements into evidence.
For example, the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) list more than 20 exceptions in federal court. These exceptions mean we do not have to prove the other person is unavailable in order to quote them during a case. The exceptions include when the comment relates to:
- Business records;
- Public records;
- Absence of a business record;
- Absence of a public record;
- A previous court judgment or conviction;
- Family history;
- Excited utterances and spontaneous statements;
- Learned treatises, when necessary to question expert witnesses;
- Commercial publications or reports;
- Marriage certificates or similar records;
- Past recollections;
- Recorded documents relating to land;
- Records of religious organizations, usually related to family history;
- Vital statistics;
- Reputation of family history or personal character;
- Statements relating to their present sense impressions;
- Statements relating to their existing mental, physical, or emotional condition;
- Statements in documents over 20 years old; or
- Statements related to a medical diagnosis or treatment.
The FRE also includes a “catchall rule,” which states that the court may accept hearsay from a third party even when the person who made the original statement might be available to testify. There are specific certain conditions where this is possible:
- It must have sound guarantees of trustworthiness;
- It proves a material fact;
- It provides stronger proof than other equivalent evidence;
- Its admission helps to ensure justice; and
- The other party is aware we will offer it into evidence.
How Can I Talk to a Lawyer About My Case?
If you have questions about certain statements in your testimony or how we will present other evidence in your personal injury case, do not hesitate to contact us today. You can reach the Pittsburgh-area office of Berger and Green at 412-661-1400.