There are many strict rules about what evidence may be admitted in a criminal trial. These rules are necessary to ensure that evidence is relevant, trustworthy, and accurate. Testimony and other statements are frequently admitted as evidence. However, hearsay evidence is strictly prohibited, except when it is not.
In general, hearsay is not admissible as evidence in a criminal trial in Pennsylvania. However, there are numerous exceptions to this rule, and hearsay is often admitted as evidence where it is appropriate. Hearsay evidence is a very tricky issue to navigate, and even experienced lawyers have been known to make mistakes. If that is the case, we can challenge hearsay evidence.
Mounting an effective defense strategy requires reviewing the evidence against you for weaknesses. Hearsay evidence must be identified and kept out. Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys have experience working with evidence in criminal trials. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case review to get your defense started.
Rules on Hearsay Evidence in Criminal Trials in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, criminal trials must adhere to the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence. Rules of evidence and procedure may vary somewhat by state. Although there are many overlaps and similarities, they may also differ somewhat from the Federal Rules of Evidence. Pennsylvania’s rule on hearsay can be found under Pa.R.E. 802. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the hearsay rules and know how to keep hearsay out of a trial.
Under this rule, hearsay is not admissible in a criminal trial unless other rules or exceptions allow it. To understand how the hearsay rule works, we must first define hearsay. Hearsay is a statement made by a speaker (“declarant”) outside of court that is offered as proof of the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Almost anything can be hearsay if the statement was originally made outside of court.
Ultimately, hearsay is not admissible unless another rule allows it. The issue is further complicated by the number of exceptions to the hearsay rule.
Common Kinds of Evidence Considered Hearsay in Pennsylvania
Hearsay is quite broad and may encompass a variety of statements made outside of court. Understanding common examples of inadmissible hearsay evidence might help you understand the nature of hearsay. Below are several examples of hearsay evidence that tend to crop up frequently.
A common form of hearsay is a rumor; information you did not learn directly but heard through the grapevine is classic hearsay evidence. For example, if a witness heard from a friend that they saw you at the scene of your alleged crime, their testimony would be considered inadmissible hearsay. Instead, the “friend” that saw you should be brought in to testify under oath that they saw you. If the police cannot find that witness, it is likely because that is not true, and they didn’t see you at the scene.
Police reports are also commonly excluded as hearsay. Police reports may be critical parts of a criminal investigation, but they are comprised of statements by other witnesses. The officers writing the report did not actually witness the crime, so the report is hearsay and cannot be admitted in court as evidence.
If you are still unsure about hearsay, our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you determine if hearsay exists in your case. Other common examples of hearsay evidence include but are not limited to the following:
- Overheard conversations
- Journal or diary entries
- Statements made by a friend of a friend, e.g., “John told me that the defendant told him….”
Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule in Pennsylvania Criminal Trials
There are dozens of exceptions to the hearsay rule. They apply in various circumstances, and it can be difficult to understand if an exception applies in your situation. Some are very specific and only come up in one kind of case. Others are more general and apply in several different kinds of cases.
Our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the numerous hearsay exceptions and can use these rules to your advantage. There are many different hearsay exceptions, but here are a few that might come up in your case.
First, hearsay may be admissible if it is an “excited utterance.” Such a statement is made during a startling moment while the person speaking is under the stress of the moment. For example, if someone said, “Look out, they have a gun!” that statement might be admitted against you as proof that you had a gun.
Hearsay can also be used to demonstrate a then-existing mental, emotional, or physical condition. Commonly, this means using hearsay to prove the declarant’s state of mind or what they might have been feeling. For example, if you testified that the victim said, “I’m scared he’ll kill me,” before the defendant attacked them, this might be admitted to show the victim was in fear for their life.
Hearsay about medical diagnoses or treatments is also admissible. The statements must be about a diagnosis or treatment plan and can describe things like symptoms, pain, or the cause of the medical condition. This might come up in a case involving the medical diagnosis of an injured victim.
What Should I Do If Hearsay Evidence Is Admitted in My Pennsylvania Criminal Trial?
The key to hearsay evidence is stopping it before getting to your trial. Prosecutors are required to inform defendants of the evidence they have in their arsenal. Contrary to what television and movies make us think, there are no surprises in a courtroom. Our Delaware County criminal defense lawyers can review the evidence against you and prevent hearsay evidence from being admitted.
In most cases, we can file pre-trial motions to suppress hearsay evidence. A motion to suppress is like a formal challenge of certain evidence. We must assert why we believe the evidence is hearsay and demand it be kept out of your trial. If the judge agrees, the evidence will be suppressed. Suppressed evidence cannot be talked about whatsoever at your trial.
When we hear a question about hearsay during your trial, we must quickly object to prevent the hearsay from tainting the trial. If our objection is sustained, the hearsay question cannot be answered. If our objection is overruled and the hearsay evidence makes it into the trial, we must take a different course of action.
We can move for a mistrial if the evidence is particularly prejudicial or inflammatory. This would stop the trial and force the government to start their case over from the beginning with a new jury. In some cases where hearsay evidence is less damaging, we might be able to strike it from the record, and the jury will be instructed to disregard the hearsay. If all else fails, we can include the judge’s ruling on the hearsay evidence as a legal error in our appeals arguments if you are convicted.
Contact Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
If you are up against criminal charges, you need a skilled team of lawyers to help you keep out inadmissible hearsay. Our Montgomery County criminal defense lawyers have the skills and experience to assist you. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case review.