Hearsay Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Hearsay, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Hearsay?

(n) Hearsay is the evidence or witness provided by a person in a legal proceedings based on the information he collected from others, gathered of his own without knowing it personally or without being an eye witness.

History and Meaning of Hearsay

Hearsay has been a part of legal proceedings for centuries, but its meaning and application have evolved over time. The term "hearsay" comes from the Old French "hors-d'oeuvre," meaning "out of court," and refers to any statement made outside of the courtroom that is brought in as evidence.

Today, hearsay is defined as any statement made outside of court that is offered as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. This means that if someone testifies about something they heard from another person, rather than something they witnessed firsthand, it is considered hearsay.

In most cases, hearsay evidence is not admissible in court because it is considered unreliable. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when the original speaker is unavailable to testify or when the statement was made under oath.

Examples of Hearsay

  1. A witness in a murder trial testifies that they heard the defendant confess to the crime to a friend. This would be hearsay because the witness did not personally hear the confession.

  2. A police officer testifies that they heard from a neighbor that the defendant was seen leaving the scene of the crime. This would also be hearsay because the officer did not personally witness the defendant leaving the scene.

  3. A victim in a domestic violence case testifies that their friend told them the defendant had a history of violent behavior. This would be hearsay because the victim did not personally witness the defendant's past behavior.

Legal Terms Similar to Hearsay

  1. Double Hearsay - When a witness testifies about something they heard from someone who heard it from someone else.
  2. Circumstantial Evidence - Evidence that implies a fact, rather than proving it directly.
  3. Conclusive Evidence - Evidence that proves a fact beyond any doubt.