Hearsay is an evidentiary term usually describing out of court statements which a party is attempting to introduce in a court proceeding to establish the fact asserted in the statement. Generally, hearsay is not admissible under the rules of evidence in Tennessee courts, federal courts, and other U.S. state courts. But hearsay has a specific definition, defined in the applicable evidentiary rules. Many out-of-court statements are not hearsay (often because they are not being introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement). And there are a number of exceptions to the hearsay rule. One such exception in Tennessee pertains to statements made for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment. The reason these statements are an exception is the idea that people are less likely to be deceptive when providing information to a medical professional attempting to diagnose and treat them. This exception applies, as noted in the recent Tennessee case of State v. Felts, M2013-00939-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-8-2014) as well to statements made by a child to a medical professional conducting an examination after allegations of sexual abuse.
In the Felts case, the Defendant was convicted at trial of multiple counts of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery. One of the claims raised on appeal is that the trial court erroneously allowed the admission of hearsay statements the child victim made to a nurse practitioner examining her after abuse allegations surfaced.
The State introduced these statements the victim made outside of court, to the nurse, about what had happened to her, to help support the victim's in-court testimony. So they were being introduced to help establish the truth of the matter asserted and were hearsay statements. However, they were admissible under a specific exception to the hearsay rule. The Defendant argued they should not be admissible, as the examination occurred after the State had begun to build a criminal case against the Defendant, and that the purpose of the examination was to obtain evidence of the Defendant's guilt. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected that argument, noting that the state Supreme Court has expressly approved the admissibility of these kinds of statements which occur as part of a medical examination to diagnose and treat potential medical problems which can arise as a result of sexual abuse. The trial court followed the proper procedures in this case to evaluate the admissibility of the statements.
For more information on when out-of-court statements may and may not be used as evidence in a criminal case, contact Hindman & Associates.