In Virginia law schools, a significant amount of time and attention is spent making future lawyers understand the importance and significance of the hearsay rule as it is complex and may one day be vital to a case. This article may answer some of your questions.
You hear it all of the time on television court shows “Objection! Hearsay!” But what exactly is hearsay? Hearsay is evidence in court that is a statement made out of court being offered for the truth of the matter asserted. The statement rests upon the credibility of the person who made the out-of-court statement.
Hearsay evidence is not admissible because there is no way for the opposing party to cross-examine the person who made the statement out of court. Cross-examination is one of the most important tenants of receiving a fair trial.
The rule barring hearsay includes oral statements, written statements and even nonverbal conduct or communication. An example of non-verbal conduct from an actual Virginia Supreme Court case is the police asking a defendant's wife to bring them the shirt he was wearing when he came home. If the wife brought a shirt in but said nothing, her act is inadmissible because it is like a declaration that the defendant was wearing that particular shirt.
In addition to it having to be a statement, it also must be offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. A statement offered for any purpose other than to prove the truth of the matter asserted is not hearsay.
For example, the statement of a witness to a police officer would be admissible to explain why the police officer arrested the defendant without a warrant. The statement is not being used for the truth of the case but more to explain why the police officer acted in a certain way.
There are many exceptions to the hearsay rule. To read about them click here.