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Hearsay in California Criminal Cases


One of the most misunderstood rules in California criminal law is the law preventing hearsay testimony. Under California statutory law, hearsay is defined as “a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.” Most often, hearsay testimony arises in the context of a witness testifying to what someone else said.

There are several concerns about hearsay evidence. Generally, hearsay evidence is less reliable because, by its nature, it is coming from a party other than the one who made the statement. Thus, a statement could easily have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by the witness. Perhaps more importantly, allowing a non-present party to present evidence against a criminal defendant deprives the defendant of their right to confront their witnesses which is guaranteed under the United States Constitution.

What Makes Hearsay So Confusing for Many People?

Perhaps the most complicated aspect of the hearsay concept is not the definition of what constitutes hearsay, but the numerous exceptions that allow evidence which would seemingly be precluded under the rule. For example, certain statements against one’s interest are not inadmissible under the hearsay rule. Specifically, a defendant’s statements are never considered hearsay and statements made by a co-conspirator are not inadmissible if they are made before or during the conspiracy.

Another example of a hearsay exception is a statement that describes a “present sense impression.” Under California Evidence Code 1240, testimony that narrates, describes, or explains an event while the person who made the statement is still “under the stress of excitement” of the event is not inadmissible.

While many of the California hearsay rules seem to work against a defendant, that is not always the case. In general, the prohibition against hearsay protects California defendants’ right to confront their witnesses and requires the prosecution to bring in more witnesses to prove their case. Absent the hearsay prohibition a detective could theoretically take the stand and read his report summarizing his interactions with all witnesses and police officers involved.

It is beyond dispute that the California hearsay rule is a double-edged sword that can either help or hurt criminal defendants. Thus, it is up to California criminal defense attorneys to ensure that they wield the hearsay sword skillfully and effectively on behalf of their clients.

Have You Been Arrested for a California Crime?

If you have recently been arrested in California, contact the Law Offices of John W. Noonan. Attorney John Noonan is a dedicated California criminal defense attorney with over 55 years representing those charged with serious California crimes. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Noonan has experience working for the other side and knows how prosecutors approach his clients’ cases. With his help, you can rest assured that you are in good hands. To learn more about how Attorney Noonan can help you with the situation you are currently facing, call (925) 886-4281 to schedule a consultation today.