Is It True That Gossip Can Be Used Against You In Court?

Posted on: 26 July 2018

The court system bans the use of hearsay (i.e., secondhand testimony) because the actual witness to the event (not the person relaying the gossip) is typically not available for examination by the jury or defense attorney. Although you can often get testimony based on hearsay thrown out of court for this reason, here are three times when it will be allowed by the judge and can used against you in court.

The Statement Contains No Facts That Must Be Proven

When a judge stops a witness from repeating something told to them by another party, it's because the secondhand testimony typically contains a statement of fact. For example, Mary tells John she saw the defendant steal money from the cash register at their job. The court won't allow John to repeat Mary's statement because it introduces factual information that must be proven or disproven by interrogating the actual witness.

On the other hand, statements that don't contain facts that must be proven or that are used to illustrate other things may be admitted in court. For instance, Mary tells John the defendant told her he or she was struggling with money issues. The judge will often allow this type of statement because it speaks to the defendant's state of mind when the incident occurred rather than the crime he or she is charged with.

Although statements like this don't directly accuse you of committing a crime, they can still be harmful to your case because they can be used to prove various elements of the crime, such as your state of mind or opportunity, which can lead to a conviction. It's important for your lawyer to depose witnesses prior to trial and to find ways to counter these types of statements to minimize the harm they do.

Statements Were Made to Obtain Medical Treatment

Certain statements made to obtain medical treatment are also exempt from the hearsay prohibition. If a witness overhears another person detailing their symptoms to a doctor or complains about some type of injury, the judge may allow the statements in court.

For instance, a witness to a drunk driving accident hears a victim tell the ambulance tech that his or her back hurts. The witness can relay this in court. It is typically the court's position that people won't lie about their symptoms if their health is at risk. Thus, anything said in this context that doesn't assign fault or causation can be admitted. However, any statement that points the finger at you directly cannot be used.

The Statement Is Against the Speaker's Interests

If the person utters a statement that would be detrimental to his or her interests, anyone who overheard that statement would be permitted to repeat it in court. The idea behind this is a person wouldn't lie about things that could potentially expose them to civil or criminal penalties or other problems.

For instance, the witness overhears someone say that he or she let the defendant use his or her vehicle even though the person knew the defendant was drunk. The court may allow this testimony because a person can be held civilly liable for any accidents an intoxicated person has in his or her vehicle if the individual knew the driver was drunk when he or she handed over the keys, and it would be in the speaker's best interest to lie about this rather than tell the truth.

One caveat to this particular form of hearsay is it will usually only be admissible if the original speaker cannot testify in court for an acceptable reason (e.g., they are hospitalized or incarcerated). If the speaker can testify, then the statement won't be allowed from anyone except the person who uttered it.

For more information about how hearsay can affect your case or help defending against a criminal charge, contact a defense attorney at a law firm like Dionisio Law.