Hearsay is governed by Article VIII of the Colorado and Federal Rules of Evidence. In criminal cases, the use of hearsay by the government against the defendant is also governed by the Confrontation Clause. Colorado Rule of Evidence 802, the hearsay rule, provides that “[h]earsay is not admissible except as provided by these rules or by the civil and criminal procedural rules applicable to the courts of Colorado or by any statutes of the State of Colorado.” The general ban on hearsay is premised upon the same beliefs that underlie the Confrontation Clause in the federal and Colorado constitutions, namely, that the reliability of a statement can be most accurately determined when the declarant comes before the fact-finder in person, testifies under oath, and is tested by cross-examination.
Most hearsay testimony is admitted under one of the hearsay exceptions. The exceptions to the general ban are usually premised on a belief that the circumstances surrounding the making of certain types of statements satisfy the reliability concerns that gave rise to the general ban.
CRE 803 enumerates 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule for which the availability of the declarant is immaterial. These include spontaneous present sense impression, excited utterance, recorded recollection, records of regularly conducted activity, public records, and more. Statements can fall under multiple exceptions, such as excited utterance and spontaneous present sense impression.
Rule 804 lists hearsay exceptions that apply when the declarant is unavailable. “Unavailable” is defined and the exceptions are listed, including previous testimony, statements against interest, and statements of personal or family history.
CRE 807 is the “catch-all” or “residual” hearsay exception. It was developed after a 1984 Colorado Supreme Court decision, W.C.L. v. People, 685 P.2d 176 (Colo. 1984), in which the statements of a child victim of sexual assault did not fall into any of the specifically enumerated hearsay exceptions. Rule 807 was carved out of CRE 803(24) and 804(b)(5). The residual exception contained in CRE 807 is an under-utilized tool for admitting hearsay statements that do not fit neatly into any of the specific exceptions set out in the rules of evidence.
It is important for every litigator to know and use the hearsay rules, both as the proponent of the hearsay testimony and in opposition. Visit the CLE offices on Tuesday, October 23, when Pat Furman, law professor at the University of Colorado, will present on “Using, Misusing, and Abusing the Hearsay Rules.”