To be convicted of a criminal offense, the evidence against you must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As any effective attorney knows, that doesn’t mean every piece of evidence the Commonwealth may have against you is admissible at trial. One of these categories of evidence that is inadmissible (with several exceptions) is hearsay evidence. The legal definition of hearsay is an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts. For the laymen, hearsay is information from another person that can not be substantiated.
Hearsay is not admissible in evidence against you unless it falls under one of the numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule in the PA Rules of Evidence. The rules against hearsay in a criminal case are stricter than those in a civil case because certain civil hearsay exceptions would violate the Defendant’s sixth amendment constitutional right to confront the witnesses against them. Some of the Hearsay exceptions under the PA Rules of Evidence include: present sense impression, excited utterances, state of mind, medical diagnosis and treatment, business records, recorded recollection, family records, character evidence, and prior inconsistent or consistent statements.
The admissibility of some hearsay statements may depend upon the availability of the person who made the statement, who is known as the declarant. A declarant is deemed to be unavailable if they refuse to testify despite a court order, or have an applicable privilege against testifying, or are dead or physically infirm, or are absent from the hearing despite reasonable means being used to procure their testimony.
Perhaps the most common use of hearsay evidence is for purposes of impeachment. Prior statements made by defendants or witnesses can be used against them to show whether there testimony is truthful or not. That signed confession or apology letter is a nail in the coffin at trial. While not all hearsay evidence is damning as a confession, one of the most common incriminating evidence is obtained from cellphone text messages or from a witness’s facebook page. Many criminal defendants are surprised to find out that the police routinely get warrants, search, and obtain information from social media that may then be potentially admitted at trial.
The rules of evidence can be complex and difficult to navigate even for those trained in the law, and practically impossible for those that aren’t. If you have been accused of a crime, you need a qualified professional who knows how to challenge the evidence. Attorney Frank Walker is a seasoned attorney with years of trial experience who can fight for you. Attorney Frank Walker is a Nationwide Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Morgantown, WV. Call us now at (412) 212-3878 for the Pittsburgh Office, and (304) 712-2089 for our office in Morgantown.