In legal terms, hearsay is testimony consisting of a statement made outside of the courtroom, as relayed by a witness who overheard it, and intended to prove the fact in question. Plainly stated, hearsay is evidence based on rumors.
Generally speaking, hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court; however, there are exceptions and, in many instances, an out-of-court statement may be admitted under a specific court’s evidence rules.
To get a sense of when an out-of-court statement may be admissible as evidence in court, consider the following example: a woman comes home to find her house broken into and her husband shot. The husband tells the woman that the perpetrator was John Smith. The woman’s testimony that John Smith broke into her home and shot her husband would be inadmissible under the hearsay rule; however, the fact that her husband was alive and able to speak at the time that she found him would be admissible, based on the woman’s testimony that he spoke to her.
Another example of when an out-of-court statement might be admissible in court would be a case in which a witness is in danger of committing perjury. If, for instance, a witness makes statements on the witness stand that are contrary to statements he has made outside the courtroom, those statements may not be considered hearsay.
While most states model their rules on the Federal Rules of Evidence, local jurisdictions may have varying rules regarding hearsay. The Federal Rules of Evidence contain approximately 30 exceptions and exclusions to the hearsay rule.