Hearsay and the Terri Schiavo Case
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard in the last couple of weeks that the testimony by Michael Schiavo and others as to the wishes expressed by Terri Schiavo was “hearsay.” Not so.
Hearsay is “second-hand” information. It occurs when a witness testifies NOT about something they personally saw or heard, but testifies about something someone else told them or said they saw. Hearsay usually involves an attempt to get some crucial fact entered into evidence that cannot be entered into evidence by any other means. The constitutional due process danger that this represents is that it deprives the other side of an opportunity to confront and cross-examine the “real” witness who originally saw or heard something.
Thus, the testimony by someone who reports on a conversation they had is not hearsay. Indeed, excluding such testimony would exclude virtually any testimony other than a direct confession by the accused.
Imagine this exchange:
Bank Teller: The defendant said, “Put the money in the bag or I’ll shoot.”
Attorney: Objection! Hearsay!
Prosecutors wouldn’t bother to bring many cases to trial if that were the rule.
(The link above also discusses the numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule that have evolved over time.)