Most people who are involved in a criminal case as either a suspect or a defendant are unfamiliar with the term “hearsay.” The reason this legal concept is so important is because it can easily become an impediment to your defense. If you make the mistake of assuming some kinds of evidence are admissible, only to find out that evidence is not admissible, you might find yourself in a much more difficult legal position.
It is vitally important that you understand hearsay, because it will teach you the value of exercising your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during questioning.
What is Hearsay?
Generally speaking, testimony in a court of law must be offered by the witness himself or herself, even if the charges are simple assault charges. In very limited circumstances, one person may be allowed to testify as to what someone else said, but courts enforce the hearsay rule in order to prevent an out-of-court statement from being admitted as evidence.
A given witness, therefore, generally may not offer testimony about an out-of-court statement, especially if the person who made the statement is available to testify on their own behalf.
In some cases, hearsay is admissible. For example, the author of a commercial publication need not appear to offer testimony covering what they published. Neither does a medical doctor need to appear to testify as to their own written medical diagnosis. Sometimes a statement against penal interest can be admitted. Such a statement can be presumed credible on the grounds the person making the statement is at greater risk of prosecution as a result.
Why is Hearsay Important?
Suppose you are being questioned by police. You know you are innocent of any crime. Nevertheless, the police say they have evidence that may implicate you. So you listen to the evidence and immediately seize on a fatal weakness in their case. You explain your innocence in detail, believing you have proven you are not guilty of any crime.
At trial , you persuade your attorney to call the police officer to the stand. You proved you were innocent right in front of them! So, your defense attorney calls the police officer to the stand and asks the following question.
“Officer, would you please tell the jury what my client told you on the afternoon of March 10th?”
At that point, the prosecutor will rise and say “objection, hearsay.” The judge will then sustain the objection, and the police officer will be prohibited from answering your attorney’s question. Why? Because your attorney is asking the officer to testify about an out-of-court statement made by you. Further, your defense attorney is attempting to admit your own testimony at trial without giving the prosecutor an opportunity to cross-examine you.
If you want the evidence you presented to the police admitted, you have to take the stand yourself. This is also the reason you never answer if questioned by the police. No matter what you say, it cannot ever help you.
The law isn’t as complicated as it sometimes seems. It does require some study and some time, but even some of the trickiest concepts can be understood and can therefore work in your favor.