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What is hearsay, and can it be used in court?


Illinois law says that if you have been injured due to someone else's negligence, you can hold that person liable through a personal injury lawsuit. But how do you prove that the defendant was responsible? You have to provide evidence, according to state or federal rules of evidence. Like so many things in the law, the rules of evidence seem relatively simple, but get more complex the more you look into them.


One such issue is hearsay. The general concept of hearsay is pretty easy to understand. Defendants have the right to cross-examine witnesses who are testifying against them, so typically, witnesses must testify in court. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is entered in court to prove the truth of the matter.

For example, if a witness testifies in court that the defendant ran a red light before causing the accident, this is strong evidence. However, if a police officer testifies in court that a witness at the scene of an accident said that the defendant ran a red light before causing the accident, the witness' statement would be considered hearsay.

As a general rule, hearsay can't be used as evidence the same way other evidence can. However, there are a number of exceptions to the hearsay rule. For example, some documentation, like business records and court judgements may be exempted from the rule if they are properly certified. Also, hearsay can serve as evidence of the witness' state of mind at the time he or she made the statement.

Knowing how to handle hearsay issues is critical for determining who a plaintiff should call as a witness and how to get critical evidence admitted. Attorneys who have experience in litigation know the rules of evidence and how to work within those rules to present their clients' cases and make the strongest arguments.

Source: FindLaw, "'Hearsay' Evidence," accessed on Oct. 8, 2016

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