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Child Abuse Professionals: What Does Hearsay Have To Do With You?

NCJ Number
The Prosecutor Volume: 37 Issue: 4 Dated: July/August 2003 Pages: 20-23,26,28,29
Laura L. Rogers
Date Published
July 2003
7 pages
This article instructs child abuse professionals (CAP's) in the rules of hearsay evidence as they might apply in a case of child abuse, so the CAP will know what types of hearsay statements he/she should record in the course of a child abuse investigation.
The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) and the common law provide that "hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." Hearsay can be reduced to the following three elements: the utterance is a statement; the statement was not made during the current court proceeding; and the statement is offered to prove the defendant's guilt. Statements can be oral, written, or nonverbal. Statements made by the perpetrator are always admissible against him/her at trial if the prosecutor offers them into evidence; for example, if the perpetrator says to the CAP, "I should not have shaken him so hard," the prosecutor may ask the CAP to repeat the statement at trial. If the statement is taken in violation of a person's constitutional or Miranda rights, the statement may be excluded. If a CAP asks the perpetrator at an emergency scene of an unconscious child, "What happened?", the perpetrator's response is not in violation of Miranda because he/she is not in custody. Documented statements must be verbatim. Often, courts will refuse to allow a paraphrased statement to be used in court. If a statement is made during a formal interview, a verbatim recording of the questions posed is helpful in obtaining admission of the response at trial. Although hearsay statements are typically inadmissible in court, since they are viewed as untrustworthy and unreliable, there are several commonly used exceptions. These exceptions are excited-utterance statements, state-of-mind statements, statements made for medical diagnosis, present-sense-impression statements, and the "catch-all" exceptions. This article explains the nature of each of these exceptions and provides examples of how they may apply in child abuse cases. 29 notes