California Evidence Code section 1200 prohibits the use of hearsay evidence
in criminal trials unless it falls within some exception to the hearsay
rule. Hearsay is a statement or assertive conduct made outside of court
and is offered in court to prove its truth. A statement offered for some
other purpose other than to prove the facts in the statement is not hearsay.
The reason for the hearsay rule is that hearsay statements are less reliable
as evidence than statements made in court by witnesses sworn to tell the truth.
Examples of hearsay evidence:
- The wife of the defendant in a spousal abuse case told her neighbor that
her husband had hit and assaulted her – the wife does not testify
at her husband's trial. Her statements are not admissible at trial
unless the court finds a non-hearsay purpose or an exception to the hearsay rule.
- The victim in a sexual assault case gives statements to the police immediately
after the assault occurred - the victim does not attend the trial to testify.
Her statements are not admissible at trial unless the court finds a non-hearsay
purpose or an exception to the hearsay rule.
excited utterance (also referred to as a
spontaneous statement) is a statement relating to a startling event or condition made while
the declarant (the person who made the out of court statement) was under
stress caused by the event or condition. The statement must concern the
immediate facts of the startling occurrence and must be made before the
declarant had time to reflect upon it. An excited utterance may be allowed
in evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule on the theory that people
rarely lie under these circumstances. One factor considered by the court
is the period of time between the startling event and the out-of-court
statement. However, there is no definite or fixed period of time within
which the declaration must have been made and each case must depend upon
its unique circumstances.