What Is Hearsay Evidence?

In general, the dictionary defines “hearsay” as “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor.” However, hearsay has a more specific definition in the practice of law. This blog discusses Georgia’s rules governing the admissibility of hearsay evidence in court.

Hearsay Evidence in General

Many states, including Georgia, preclude the use of hearsay evidence in court.[i] Georgia’s evidence code defines hearsay to mean “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”[ii]

However, courts do not automatically exclude evidence at trial. The opposing party must raise an objection to hearsay evidence. If the opposing party doesn’t object, they waive the objection, and the court or jury may consider such evidence in their findings.

Out-of-Court Statements

Letters, text messages, and response in a job application all qualify as out-of-court statements. A significant difference between the common understanding of hearsay and the legal definition is that even the witnesses own past out-of-court statements are considered hearsay evidence. Thus, witness testimony stating “I told the defendant there was a puddle of water on aisle 5 and that someone could slip on it” qualifies as an out-of-court statement.

The Purpose for Offering Statements

A statement is not considered inadmissible hearsay evidence if it is not offered “to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” For example, “John said Santa Claus finished the milk and cookies” is inadmissible hearsay if it was offered to prove that Santa, in fact, finished the milk and cookies. However, it is not inadmissible hearsay if used to show that John believed in Santa Claus.

Thus, if the statement “I told the defendant there was a puddle of water on aisle 5” was offered to show that the defendant had reason to believe there was a puddle of water on aisle 5, it is not inadmissible hearsay evidence.

An out-of-court statement may be admissible if offered for the following reasons:

  • Explaining conduct or belief
  • Demonstrating motive
  • Showing threat to the listener
  • Requests or Solicitations

Hearsay Exceptions

Certain statements may be admissible even if they qualify as hearsay evidence. The Georgia evidence code recognizes certain exceptions to the general prohibition on hearsay due to circumstances that indicate a higher likelihood of reliability.

Examples of hearsay statements that are nevertheless admissible in court include:

  • Present sense impressions – “Slow down, you’re driving too fast.”
  • Excited utterances – “I won the jackpot!”
  • Existing mental, emotional, or physical conditions – “I’m totally drunk.”
  • Statements connected to medical diagnosis – “Patient complained of heart palpitations.”
  • Business records – Invoices and receipts.
  • Former testimony – Court transcripts in another court proceeding.
  • Dying declarations – “Brutus stabbed me.”
  • Statements against interest – “I’m totally drunk.”

Contact an Experienced Marietta Litigation Attorneys

At Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C., we have valuable courtroom experience in a variety of different legal matters. From criminal defense to construction litigation, our clients can count on us to provide them with comprehensive and effective legal advice throughout each phase of the litigation process.

For more information, call Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C. at (770) 629-0154 or contact us online today.

[i] “Hearsay shall not be admissible except as provided by this article” O.C.G.A. § 24-8-802 (2018).

[ii] O.C.G.A. § 24-8-801(d) (2018).