Encyclopedia > Hearsay

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Hearsay in its most general and oldest meaning is the statement of a witness that is based upon the statement(s) of other witness(es), such that the witness who is testifying has no personal knowledge of the underlying facts or occurrences stated by the other witnesses. The credibility of the other witnesses cannot be checked by the person against whom the testimony is being proffered. As well it usually has not been checked by the person reporting what they have heard and it may even be double hearsay (hearsay within hearsay). For this reason hearsay may not generally be considered accurate or a statement of the underlying fact(s) for which it is given.

Today the hearsay rule has developed into what is really a complex set of evidentiary rules of admissibility that are used to prevent various types of statements and documents from being entered into evidence in various types of court proceedings, though they may be allowed in other types of alternative dispute resolution. Generally speaking hearsay is a concept that developed in the common law legal tradition in the context of the adversarial system of decision making.

While hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence in legal proceedings such as litigation there are many exceptions, such as (these are just a few, [more need to be added]):

  • dying utterances often depicted in movies then the police office asks the person on their death bed, "Who did it" and the victim replies, "The buttler did it");
  • admissions against interest someone makes a statement that is against their own interest, such a someone saying, "I really did not edit that text according to the encyclopedia's standards", and
  • the business records exception: business records created during the ordinary course of business are considered reliable and can usually be brought in under this exception if the proper foundation is laid when the evidence is introduced into evidence.
  • prior testimony if the testimony was given under oath and the party against whom the testimony is being proffered was present and had the opportunity to cross examine the witness at that time. Often used to enter depositions into the court record at trial.

In some jurisdictions such as Canada the limited exceptions format to the rule have been replaced by a more general theory of exceptions to the hearsay rule that allows courts to decide when documents, testimony or other evidentiary proof can be used that might not otherwise be considered. [more can be written about this].

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