In Georgia, the rules of evidence only allow hearsay evidence (a statement being made outside the current trial and being offered for its truth) if the hearsay meets certain exceptions. Each of the exceptions are based on the fact that if the statement meets one of the exceptions, it has a high level of reliability. Just a few of these exceptions include:
- Present sense impression- This happens when a person is describing something as it is happening. This type of hearsay is though to be reliable because there is no time for the person making the statement to create a lie.
- Excited utterance- This happens when a person makes a statement while they are under the stress or excitement of a situation. This type of hearsay is thought to be reliable because the person making the statement is still excited about the event they just witnessed or endured so they are truthfully saying something spontaneous.
- Statements made for medical treatment- This happens when a person tells a person something so that they may be medically treated. This type of hearsay is though to be reliable because a person tells the truth if they need medical care.
In a Georgia criminal defense case, prosecutors will often try to have hearsay evidence admitted under what is called the Residual Exception Rule. The Residual Exception Rule says that statements that have guarantees of trustworthiness may be admitted after a judge (the “gatekeeper” in a trial) examines the totality of the circumstances under which the statement was made and any evidence corroborating the statement. Prosecutors will often try to use this catch-all rule to bring in the most damning evidence, even if it doesn’t fit into one of the many hearsay exceptions.
A new Georgia Supreme Court case, The State v. Kenney, tightens the reigns on the use of the Residual Exception Rule. In Kenny, the State attempted to have a hearsay statement admitted under the Residual Exception Rule. After the Court had examined the statement and found that it lacked exceptional guarantees of trustworthiness and thus was inadmissible, the State attempted to have the statement admitted under the present sense exception or excited utterance exception. The Supreme Court ruled that once the State attempts to have a hearsay statement admitted under the Residual Exception Rule, they have waived the right to try to have the statement admitted under any of the other hearsay exceptions. The Supreme Court guides that things such as the closeness of the relationship between the witness testifying in trial and the person making the statement and the level of intoxication of the person making the statement should be considered when determining if a hearsay statement has an exceptional guarantee of trustworthiness.
As you can see, the rules of evidence in a Georgia criminal defense case, particularly the ones surrounding hearsay evidence, are complex. But, even if incriminating statements have been made about you, there are ways to prevent the jury from hearing about them. It is important to hire an attorney who is comfortable with these rules and will fight to keep unfair evidence out of your trial. The attorneys at W. Scott Smith are educated in the hearsay rules and will work with you to make sure your case is as strong as possible when it is presented to a jury. If you are charged with a crime and would like to be represented by seasoned trial attorneys, call our office today at 404-581-0999.