You’re likely familiar with that old adage about the truth setting you free. When you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, however, there can be obstacles to the truth coming out at trial. One of them is hearsay. In this blog, we’ll explain the legal concept of hearsay and how the law treats it during criminal cases.
What Exactly is Hearsay?
The legal definition of hearsay is oral testimony or written documentation quoting people who are not present in court. Simply put, the witness is repeating what they were told by another party. These statements are usually prefaced by, “So-and-so told me that….”
Under most circumstances, hearsay is inadmissible because that person’s credibility cannot be assessed by the court and/or jury, nor can they be cross-examined. Since they are not present in the courtroom to state their exact words, there’s also too much room for misinterpretation.
So does this mean that hearsay evidence can never be introduced? No, it can be admissible, but only under certain circumstances that we’ll review below.
Florida law recognizes certain valid reasons for a person being unable to confirm their earlier declaration in court, and may allow their statement under circumstances like the following:
- The person was dying or believed they were dying when they made the statement, otherwise known as dying declarations.
- The statement puts the person at a disadvantage. For example, someone wouldn’t normally say, “He hit my sister so I shot him” unless it were true.
- The person is unavailable to appear in court because the opposing party deliberately prevented their appearance. This concept, referred to as forfeiture by wrongdoing, is an exception to the Sixth Amendment right of a defendant in a criminal proceeding to confront the witnesses against them.
Statements motivated by excitement or anxiety may be admissible if the witness actually heard the person make them. For example, if the witness saw and heard someone screaming at the defendant, “Why did you shoot me?” they can state this fact in court.
Statements Made for Medical Treatment
The law generally regards statements made for the purposes of medical treatment to be exceptions to the hearsay rule because people usually tell the truth in matters involving their health. If someone exclaims, “My arms feel like they’re on fire” or “I can’t move my legs,” it is accepted that they’re being honest.
Present Sense Impressions
A present sense impression is a statement made by a person that shows their sense of a condition or event. To be admissible, the statement must be made while they are perceiving the condition or event or immediately afterward. “It’s so hot out here” or “We’re going too slow” are both examples. A present sense impression is an exception to the prohibition on hearsay because it addresses the present and allows no time for reflection or fabrication.
Prior Inconsistent Statements
If a declarant made a pretrial statement that conflicts with their trial testimony, Florida law allows it to be used even if they don’t confirm it in court.
There are other exceptions, like statements that would further the cause of justice if admitted into evidence. Your Florida criminal defense lawyer will advise you of these exceptions and take all available measures to ensure that you benefit from your right to a fair trial.
Do You Need a Strong Criminal Defense Attorney?If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense in Florida, your first step should be gaining experienced and assertive counsel. At Puglisi Law, we know what’s at stake for you and will use our knowledge of the law and the Florida criminal courts system to get the best outcome for you. For more information or to get started on your case, please contact us today.