When Is Hearsay Admissible In A Criminal Case?

How evidence and testimony are entered into the court record is a big deal in American law. If you've ever watched legal movies or TV shows, you've doubtlessly seen a criminal defense attorney object to something because it is hearsay.

That means that all hearsay is inadmissible in court, right? No.

There are many exceptions outlined under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Most of the federal rules extend into state systems, and it's wise to know a bit about when hearsay actually can be entered into the record.

What is Hearsay?

While you probably have an intuitive understanding of hearsay as something that a person merely said they heard, it has a strict definition as understood by a defense attorney. Hearsay extends not only to statements and recollections, but also to documents and records. Anything that was learned outside the normal court process is considered hearsay.

The idea behind excluding hearsay from hearings hinges on your right to confront your accusers. Generally, if it's not possible for both sides to examine a piece of evidence or to interrogate a person, the court is very reluctant to have it be part of a hearing or trial.

Documents and Records

All documents and records are hearsay until someone can identify them. If you've seen fictional depictions of witnesses being asked about entries in a mobster's accounting books, for example, this is what is necessary for those records to become admissible. The same rules apply when admitting audio and video recordings, text messages, emails, and other forms of recorded evidence.

If someone can confirm the veracity of the records under oath, they have a good chance of being admitted. The court also tends to assign more credibility based on the witness examining the items so the admissibility of a document reviewed by a doctor or a person close to the events is likely to be higher.


A criminal defense lawyer wants to see as much provided testimony done under oath as possible. The threat of perjury charges means most people aren't wild about providing false statements.

Hearsay statements might be admitted under special circumstances. If a witness has died or is suffering from emotional or brain trauma, it may be the only way to learn what they heard. Statements allegedly made immediately after the commission of a crime are considered more salient, too. Hearsay from individuals with stellar reputations is also likely to be admissible.  

For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney.