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Legalese 101: What is Hearsay?

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

People seem to misuse the word hearsay a lot. Contrary to popular belief, hearsay isn't just something that someone else said about you that you don't like.

It's actually a complicated legal term that is very frequently misunderstood, even by lawyers. But fear not, FindLaw is here to walk you through just what hearsay is (and what it isn't).

So what is hearsay? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about it. For example, people commonly believe that you cannot be convicted based on hearsay. That's not true. Hearsay evidence is often excluded, but if it meets an exception, of which many exist, it may be admissible and used to convict you.

Generally speaking, out-of-court statements may not be used as evidence unless an exception to the hearsay rule exists. Further complicating things, there are dozens of exceptions, which has led some legal scholars to say that the exceptions have swallowed the rule.

The official definition of hearsay is: "Hearsay" is a statement, other than one made by the person speaking while testifying at trial or a hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Still awake? That definition, from the Federal Rules of Evidence can often times be confusing.

People also believe that hearsay only applies to what other people say. In fact, hearsay applies to everyone, as long as they are not under oath.

Many people believe that the hearsay rule is an old legal relic that has been eliminated. However, in fact, most states have expanded the exceptions to the hearsay rule, allowing the use of more hearsay in court.

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