Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant, while testifying at trial or a hearing offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. See Federal Rule of Evidence 801(c). Put more simply, it is a statement being repeated by someone other than the person who actually made the statement which is used at trial or in a hearing to prove the truthfulness of the statement.
Courts will generally not allow hearsay statements or evidence to come into court. For example, in a personal injury automobile case, many people believe that the accident report can come into evidence. In most jurisdictions, it can not because it is considered hearsay. The police officer had simply talked to the people involved and recorded what was told to him. That is classic hearsay and is usually excluded at trial.
Hearsay evidence can also be testimony in a court of a statement made out of court. The classic example is one person attempting to testify as to something said by another person who is not in court. Without personal knowledge of the matter testified to, the court will generally not allow the party to testify as to a hearsay statement.
Hearsay statements are excluded when they are being offered as an assertion to show the truth of the matter asserted therein, and thus, resting for its value upon the credibility of the out of court attester or state or. Hearsay is evidence not proceeding from the personal knowledge of the witness, but is from the mere repetition of what he has heard others say. Hearsay is that which does not derive its value solely from the credit of the witness, but rests mainly on the veracity and competency of other persons. The nature of hearsay evidence shows its weakness and is admitted only in specific cases for necessity.
There are certain statements which are either not considered hearsay, or are considered exceptions to the hearsay rule. The hearsay exceptions are as follows:
1) Present Sense Impression. That is a statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the person was perceiving the event or condition or made immediately thereafter.
2) An Excited Utterance. A statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.
3) Then existing mental, emotional or physical condition.
4) Statements for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment.
5) Recorded recollection.
6) Records of regularly conducted activity.
7) Absence of entry in the records kept in accordance with the provisions of paragraph number 6 above.
8) Public records and reports.
9) Records of vital statistics.
10) An absence of public record or entry.
11) Records of religious organizations, such as statements of birth, marriages, divorces, deaths, legitimacy, etc.
12) Marriage, baptismal and other similar certificates.
13) Family records, such as family bibles, engravings and rings, family portraits, inscriptions on crypts and tombstones.
14) Records of documents affecting an interest in property.
15) Statements and documents affecting an interest in property.
16) Statements in ancient documents. That is documents that have been in existence 20 years or more.
17) Market reports, commercial publications.
18) Learned treatises.
19) Reputation concerning personal or family history.
20) Reputation concerning boundaries or general history.
21) Reputation as to character.
22) Judgment of previous conviction.
23) Judgment as to personal, family or general history or boundaries.
24) Other exceptions.
As you can see, the hearsay rules and their exceptions are extremely complicated. A lawyer handling your personal injury case must be well familiar with the use of the hearsay rule and its exceptions in order to ensure that adequate evidence is presented to win a trial. Not only do the hearsay rules allow you to get into evidence critical information, but the rules can also be used to exclude damaging information from reaching the jury.