Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary

Legal Dictionary Home

Hearsay Rule
A rule of evidence that prohibits the use of out-of-court statements that are offered as proof of the subject of the statement. These statements are not admitted as evidence because person who made the statement isn't in court for the other party to cross-examine. For example, if Cathy, an eyewitness to an accident, later tells Betsy that the pickup ran the light, Betsy would not be allowed to recount Cathy's remarks. Out-of-court statements that aren't offered to prove the truth of the statement are admissible, however. Suppose Tom is called to testify, "On January 1, Bob said the Steelers stink." If the party calling Tom wants to prove that Bob was alive on January 1, Tom's testimony would be admitted, because the other side could question Tom about whether the conversation really took place on that date. Whether the Steelers are a poor team is beside the point. Even statements that are hearsay may be admitted if they fall within one of the many exceptions to the rule. In general, hearsay will be admitted if the circumstances of the statement indicate a high probability that the statement is true. For example, a statement uttered spontaneously and under duress -- such as a victim's remarks immediately following an accident -- could be admitted because the judge might find that the person had little time to plan to say anything other than the truth.