Who Says? Hear Says! Exceptions, That Is


Philosophical thought for the day: A rule is not a rule without exceptions, and there are no exceptions, damnit!

Good afternoon class.

Welcome to Hearsay 103.

There are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that one might almost say the exceptions have swallowed the rule. I will discuss several of them in some detail and merely list the others because they do not come up all that often and they are not difficult to understand. For future reference, you can find them listed in rules 803 and 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are cited as FRE 803 and FRE 804. By the way, most of the states have adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence with minor changes and they use the same numbering system. Most of the minor changes are due to a state modifying the federal rule in order to retain the rule or a favored part of the rule that the state used to follow. For your information, the rules of evidence were promulgated by the various supreme courts pursuant to their rule making authority under the state constitutions. For the most part, judges and lawyers in all state and federal courts play with the same set of evidentiary rules and that is a good thing.

As I pointed out in our first class regarding the hearsay rule, the rule is designed to exclude unreliable evidence. Why bother? you might ask. The answer is that all of the rules are designed to filter the evidence that jurors get to hear so that they will not place undue emphasis or reliance on evidence that has little weight or importance. Put another way, judges and lawyers do not trust jurors, so they want to censor what they get to consider. The hearsay rule is a good example.

Recall our example in the first class involving the hapless Peter Piper who will never get to pick his fabled peck of pickled peppers due to Igor Ivarson’s storming rampage through the red light slamming Mr. Piper’s immortal soul through the uprights of heaven leaving his fractured mortal coil bereft and alone in a puddle of blood in the crosswalk of life. Ah, yes. T’was a pity, indeed.

So, we had B, let’s give him a name and call him Beauregard, shall we? Okay, and let’s also give A a name and call her Amanda. So, Beauregard is on the witness stand and the prosecutor asks him,

“What if anything did Amanda say to you at dinner about something that happened at the intersection?”

But for the hearsay objection by defense counsel that any reasonably conscious and sentient judge would have sustained because the answer is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, Amanda would have answered,

“Igor Ivarson ran right through the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

You see, judges and lawyers fear that, if jurors heard the answer, they might place undue emphasis on the un-cross-examined statement of a witness who never actually testified. How can they reasonably and reliably assess Amanda’s credibility by listening to Beauregard drone on about dinner with Amanda?

Enough said.

Now, let’s tweak our fact pattern so that we remove Amanda and Beauregard from their cozy repast at their intimate restaurant and place them together at the intersection with Beauregard talking to his wife on his cell phone while staring at the sky when Igor Ivarson hits the unfortunate Peter Piper. He does not see the accident, but Amanda does. She utters a scream and says, “Oh my God. Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

Flash forward to trial again with Beauregard on the stand and the prosecutor now asks,

“When you were standing on the corner of the intersection talking on your cell phone, what, if anything, did you hear Amanda say?”

Assume you are defense counsel and you stand up and say, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay.”

What happens?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens.

The judge says: “Objection overruled. You may close your mouth and sit down, counsel.”

Saying, “But Judge. Professor Masoninblue says that’s hearsay because its offered to prove the truth of the matter and besides, we all know that we don’t trust juries, right Judge?” will not help you.

Welcome to the first two and likely most often used exceptions to the hearsay rule: Present Sense Impression and Excited Utterance.

FRE 803(1) defines a Present Sense Impression as follows:

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event, or condition, or immediately thereafter.

FRE 803(2) defines an Excited Utterance as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.

Amanda’s statement is admissible hearsay under both the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Why make an exception for these two types of statements and not the statement during the conversation at dinner?

Because the declarant, Amanda, was “describing or explaining an event or condition while [she] was perceiving the event”, and she was “under the stress of excitement caused by the event.” Her statement was an immediate reaction to the accident. She did not have an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and possibly change or even forget her statement. For that reason, her statement is regarded as sufficiently accurate and reliable to be admitted into evidence, even if she does not testify and is not subject to cross examination.

In fact the availability of the declarant to testify at a hearing or trial is immaterial to all of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule that are listed in FRE 803.

I see that we are at 1000 words, so we have reached the end of today’s class and we’ll have to continue our study of the exceptions to the hearsay rule tomorrow.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

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