Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney
Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney About Us Personal Injury Family Law Community Outreach Contact Us
Call Our Offices Now View Our Testimonials Visit Our Personal Injury Blog

A Short Introduction to Hearsay

The word hearsay is pervasive on television and in print. You've probably heard it spoken on your favorite crime drama ad nauseum, and if you're a fan of Judge Judy and shows of that ilk, you've definitely heard it used (and misused). But what does it mean and why is it prohibited at trial?

Hearsay is defined as a statement, made by someone other than a witness testifying at trial, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, hearsay is something a witness heard someone else say which is spoken at trial and taken as testimony to prove some point.

But why is hearsay disfavored and prohibited at trial? The risk of allowing hearsay testimony is fourfold: 1) the person uttering the statement could have misperceived the event or condition in question, 2) he could have erred in recalling the event or condition observed, 3) the speaker could simply be lying or bending the truth, and 4) the speaker might have misspoken or could have been misunderstood.

To be believed or taken as true, any hearsay statement requires a two-step inference. First, because the speaker said something about a condition or event, he believes it to be true. This step is affected by the risk that the speaker was lying or misspoke. The second step in the inference is to take the speaker's belief as evidence of the event or condition. This step is affected by the risk that the speaker misperceived events or failed to correctly recall those events. Because of these risks, hearsay is deemed unreliable and may cause a judge or jury to err in making a decision or rendering a judgment.

The only way to ameliorate those risks is for the speaker to actually appear at trial, take an oath to tell the truth, be subjected to cross-examination, and allow the judge and jury to observe the speaker's demeanor. Only under those conditions can testimony be properly evaluated for truthfulness and reliability.

Categories: Evidence