Hearsay: Definition, Examples & Exceptions

Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the concept of hearsay in the courtroom. We'll explore the definition of hearsay and some examples as well as some of the important exceptions that make hearsay admissible in court.

Definition of Objection and Hearsay

Many of us have seen courtroom dramas on television and movies where, during a particularly important moment of testimony, one side's attorney stands up and interrupts the witness to shout 'I object!' What does it mean to object in court? An objection is a request from one of the attorneys to have the judge review some part of the trial before going forward. Attorneys can object to a question posed by the opposite counsel, question the validity of evidence, or request for a motion to be granted (such as an extension on time).

One of the most common and important types of objections is called hearsay. Hearsay occurs when a witness testifies about something that he or she heard about but did not witness personally. You are not allowed to testify that something is true just because someone told you it was true. You can only say that something is true when you know it is, because you observed it yourself. You were there when an event happened and can answer questions on it in court, such as to confirm someone's alibi by saying that you did see the person on the night in question.

Examples of Hearsay

It is hearsay to make a claim about what you were told by another person. For example, it is not appropriate for a witness to testify about something he or she heard as office gossip about a coworker. For instance, if you heard a rumor from a coworker that your boss was unfaithful to his wife but have no evidence about it, you cannot then testify in his divorce proceedings that he was unfaithful. You did not observe him being unfaithful and he did not tell you he was cheating, so you have no direct knowledge of the affair.

For a second example, imagine that you were a witness to a fight in a large, crowded bar over the weekend. Earlier in the night, you overheard two people arguing in the bathroom -- this overheard argument would be hearsay if you testified about it in court.

Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule

In the U.S., courts must follow the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are formal procedures for trial that govern how evidence must be submitted. These provide certain exceptions to the hearsay rule, or times when it may be appropriate to allow someone to testify about what was stated outside of court. Here are a few important exceptions:

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