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What is the Hearsay Rule?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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If Paul does something and he tells Terry about it, Terry may be able to testify about the statements Paul made in court. Although Terry did not witness the event, he was a witness of Paul’s statements. If Paul does something and tells Terry about it and Terry then tells Melissa, Melissa cannot testify about it in court. Melissa’s contribution in court would be considered hearsay. A hearsay rule generally bars a court from considering information that cannot be substantiated.

Most legal systems have regulations that determine the circumstances under which evidence will or will not be admissible. Any such regulation may be referred to as a rule of evidence. Hearsay rules fall into this category. A hearsay rule usually defines evidence that poses a risk to the execution of justice. At the same time, those rules also tend to outline evidence that a legal system will accept despite the fact that a firsthand witness will not be available to testify in court.

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When there are hearsay rules in place, courts usually reject evidence that cannot be proven or to which a person was not a witness. In the above example, Melissa cannot be considered a witness because she has no proof that Paul made statements to Terry. For this reason, the lack of a hearsay rule could be considered inhumane. This is because in most just and democratic societies, the opportunity of confrontation is generally viewed as a fundamental right. A hearsay rule provides protection for accused individuals by allowing them the opportunity to know and address their accusers.

There are, however, generally some exceptions to the hearsay rule. For example, in the federal court system in the United States (US,) recorded recollections are not barred by hearsay. A recorded recollection refers to a record, such as a journal entry, that shows that a witness had knowledge regarding a subject she may not remember at the time of a trial. Vital statistics documents and family records such as birth certificates, records of fetal death, and inscriptions on family heirlooms are also not subject to the hearsay rule.

It was only in 2003 that Taiwan adopted a hearsay rule. This rule says that unless otherwise provided by law, any out-of-court verbal statement derivative from anyone other than the defendant himself shall be inadmissible. One of the exceptions in this jurisdiction is the admissibility of business records pertaining to regular business activities. This means that even if the creator of the business record is not present, the document may be used to confirm or dispute claims made by a party in the case.

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