Our firm works with residents who are appealing their criminal conviction in Chicago. Grounds for appeal are varied. One reason that a prior conviction may be overturned on appeal is when the rules of evidence are misused or violated in an original trial.
There are many forms of evidence in criminal cases, and one particularly common form of evidence is witness statements. Witnesses can tell the court about what they saw or heard or about what they personally perceived or thought about a situation, person or circumstance. So long as a witness testifies about things he or she personally knows or said, the evidence is generally admissible in court. However, witness testimony evidence can become increasingly unreliable when the witness tells the court about something he or she heard someone else say. This unreliability comes from the fact that Witness A is telling the court about something Person B said… why not simply have Person B tell the court the same thing? In some situations, this type of witness testimony can constitute “hearsay” evidence, and there are special rules of evidence when it comes to hearsay statements.
What Is Hearsay?
In order for evidence to be useful in court, it must be reliable. Hearsay is a complicated form of evidence because sometimes it is unreliable, while other times it can be highly reliable. As such, the admissibility of hearsay evidence in court is govern by a lot of special rules (Illinois Rules of Evidence Rule 801-806). Things can get complicated because there are:
Hearsay is a statement that can be made in writing, made orally or made through non-verbal conduct (e.g., a thumbs up gesture or a shrugging of the shoulders gesture), that is made outside of the courtroom by a declarant (i.e., the person who utters the statement), which is offered as evidence in court to prove the truth of the matter that is being asserted. As a rule, hearsay is generally inadmissible evidence in court.
As previously mentioned, hearsay is generally excluded as evidence in court because of its inherent unreliability. To demonstrate this unreliability, consider the following example. If Witness A testified in court to hearing Declarant B say, “Defendant D told me that he stole the television,” there is an element of unreliability here because Witness A is telling the court something that Declarant B said regarding Defendant D. The testimony would have more credibility if Declarant B told the court directly what Defendant D said to him.
Illinois Rules of Evidence Rules 803 and 804 provide a number of specific situations that constitute hearsay exceptions. These exceptions apply to statements that are hearsay (i.e., they are out-of-court statements offered for the truth of the matter asserted), but for other reasons these statements fall into the category of exceptions to the hearsay rule, and are admissible, because they are highly reliable statements.
For example, one exception to the hearsay rule is directed to recorded recollections. A recorded recollection, such as a police statement made by a witness after a car accident, can be read to the court during trial. While the reading of the police report to the court is the reading of an out-of-court statement, as it is a written record made by the witness, that is offered for the truth of the matter it asserts (i.e., the police report is being read to the court as proof of the truth of the matter asserted), it is admissible since it is a highly reliable form of evidence.
Additionally, 725 ILCS 5/115-10 specifically provides a number of scenarios that are hearsay exceptions. These exceptions to the hearsay rule exist to promote justice in cases involving the physical or sexual abuse of children or those who are intellectually disabled. There is a strong public policy reasoning for hearing all of the evidence that is available in cases that involve particularly vulnerable victims.
Contact Chicago Criminal Appeals Lawyers
It is important that you be represented by a sharp and experienced criminal defense lawyer at your trial and, if necessary, your appeal. When you are facing criminal charges so that inadmissible hearsay evidence stays out of your trial. Contact the legal team at Barney & Hourihane today to ensure that your rights are respected throughout the legal process.