Hearsay, Hearsay, Hearsay ….

Today we will discuss a well-known rule of evidence called “hearsay.” Many have heard about it, and have a general understanding of what it may be, but today’s blog will focus on explaining the intricacies of the hearsay rule. The rule against hearsay is deceptively simple and full of exceptions. Hearsay is an out of court statement, made in court, to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, hearsay is evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated. For example, Witness A in a murder trial claimed on the stand: “Witness B (the “declarant”) told me that the defendant killed the victim.” The definition of hearsay is not too difficult to understand. But the matter can become very confusing when one considers all of the many exceptions to the general rule against hearsay.

Even if a statement meets the requirements for hearsay, the statement may yet be admissible under one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) contains nearly thirty of these exceptions. Most of them are generally available, although a few of them are limited to times when the declarant is unavailable.

There are twenty-four exceptions in the federal rules that do not require proof that the person who made the statement is unavailable. These are:

Business records, including those of a public agency

Certain public records and reports

Evidence of a judgment of conviction for certain purposes

Evidence of the absence of a business record or entry

Excited utterances or spontaneous statements

Family records concerning family history

Judgments of a court concerning personal history, family history, general history, or          boundaries, where those matters were essential to the judgment

Learned treatises used to question an expert witness

Market reports, commercial publications, and the like

Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates

Past recollections recorded

Recorded documents purporting to affect interests in land

Records of religious organizations concerning personal or family history

Records of vital statistics

Reputation concerning boundaries or general history

Reputation concerning family history

Reputation of a person’s character

Statements about the declarant’s present sense impressions

Statements about the declarant’s then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition

Statements in authentic ancient documents (at least 20 years old)

Statements in other documents purporting to affect interests in land and relevant to          the purpose of the document

Statements made by the declarant for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment

Statements of the absence of a public record or entry

The “catchall” rule

The last exception, the so-called “catchall” rule, bears some explanation. This rule does not require that the declarant be unavailable to testify. It does say that evidence of a hearsay statement not included in one of the other exceptions may nevertheless be admitted if it meets these following conditions:

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Get a Lawyer!

A criminal defendant’s right to an attorney is found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires the “assistance of counsel” for the accused in all criminal prosecutions. This means that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by, or have access to an attorney during all criminal proceedings, from the time an individual is arrested, through a jury trial. In certain scenarios, this right can go beyond a jury trial and attach through the first appeal upon a conviction. It also means that if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, in almost all instances the government will appoint one to handle the case, at no cost to the defendant.

The defense attorney’s role is of the most importance in almost every criminal case. The specific duties of an attorney vary depending on the nature of the charges and the case, but there are several key responsibilities of all defense attorneys regardless of the charge. Firstly, a defense attorney is responsible for advising the defendant of their rights and explaining the several different stages of a criminal proceeding. Secondly, the attorney must ensure the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated during their contact with law enforcement and during all court proceedings. Some other obligations of a defense attorney is to advise the defendant of his or her rights and explaining what to expect at different stages of the criminal process; Ensuring that the defendant’s constitutional rights are not violated through law enforcement conduct, or in court proceedings; Negotiating a plea bargain with the government, on the defendant’s behalf; From arraignment to sentencing: investigating facts and evidence, cross-examining government witnesses, objecting to improper questions and evidence, and presenting any legal defenses.

Courts have interpreted the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as guaranteeing the “effective assistance of counsel” to criminal defendants. It doesn’t matter whether the attorney is hired by the defendant or appointed by the government. However, questionable strategic choices made by an attorney (and even serious lawyer errors, in some instances) do not usually cause a conviction to be thrown out, unless it is clear that the attorney’s incompetence affected the outcome of the case.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Appellate Rights

The right to a trial by jury is the most fundamental constitutional right a criminal defendant is granted. Upon a conviction after a jury trial, a defendant has the right to appeal a finding of guilt. In order for an appellate court to hear an appeal from a lower court the aggrieved party must demonstrate to the appellate court that an error was made at the trial level. The error must have been substantial. “Harmless errors,” or those unlikely to make a substantial impact on the result at trial, are not grounds for reversing the judgment of a lower court. Any error, defect, irregularity, or variance, which does not affect substantial rights is disregarded.

Assuming that there was no harmless error, there are two basic grounds for appeal: 1) the lower court made a serious error of law (plain error) and 2) the weight of the evidence does not support the verdict.

Plain error is an error or defect that affects the defendant’s substantial rights, even though the parties did not bring this error or defect to the judge’s attention during trial. Of course, some plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the court. In any event, plain error will form a basis for an appeal of a criminal conviction.

It is much more difficult to prevail in an appeal based on the alleged insufficient weight of evidence. Although appellate courts review the transcripts of trials, they almost never hear actual testimony of witnesses, view the presentation of evidence, or hear the parties’ opening and closing arguments. Consequently, they are not in the best position to assess the weight of evidence in many cases. For this reason they place much confidence in trial courts’ decisions on issues of facts. In an appeal based on an alleged insufficient weight of evidence to support a verdict, the error or misjudgment of evidence must truly be egregious for a defendant to expect to prevail on appeal.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.