J. W. Carney, Jr. & Associates
Speak to an attorney today

What is 'hearsay' and why is it inadmissible in a felony trial?

Criminal trials are conducted according to strict procedural rules. One of the most important set of rules governs the admissibility in a trial of various types of evidence. These rules go by various names -- in Massachusetts, they are called the Guide to Evidence -- but they control the kinds of statements, exhibits and objects that can be presented to the jury in every type of trial, from felonies to minor traffic violations. One of the most complex rules is the so-called "hearsay rule."

Hearsay is a statement made by a person while that person is not testifying as a witness at trial and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. The main purpose of the hearsay rule is to preserve the adverse party's constitutional right to confront and question any witness call to testify against the party. A common example of hearsay is a witness who is called to testify that "Joe told me he committed the crime." If Joe is not in the courtroom, he cannot be cross-examined and the statement cannot be admitted into evidence to prove Joe's guilt.

The hearsay rule contains many qualifications and exceptions that are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, some exceptions can be briefly mentioned. The statement of an adverse party is not hearsay. Some out-of-court statements are not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, and therefore are not considered hearsay. For example, "Joe told me not to tell anyone about the crime" is not hearsay because Joe's out-of-court statement is not factual. The statement is offered to prove what Joe said because that statement may reflect upon Joe's guilt.

A solid command of the rules of evidence is part of every criminal defense. Sometimes, the prosecutor's entire case rests upon a single hearsay statement. If the defense can persuade the judge to exclude that statement, the entire case against the defendant may collapse.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
American College of Trial Lawyers The Best lawyers in America Superlawyers Boston Magazine Top 5 Attorneys Boston Bar Association

Tell Us About Your Legal Issue We respond within 24 hours

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

email us for a response

Firm Contact Information

J. W. Carney, Jr. & Associates
20 Park Plaza
Suite 1405
Boston, MA 02116

Phone: 617-830-6760
Fax: 617-338-5587
Boston Law Office Map