Police Officer Testimony About Out-of-Court Statements and When that Is — and Is Not — Inadmissible Hearsay in a Maryland Criminal Trial

A successful defense in a criminal case involves many things. One of these is keeping inadmissible evidence out of your trial. That can include excluding inadmissible hearsay testimony that potentially harms your case. To do this, and to make sure that your rights are fully protected throughout the process, it pays to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side.

Winning these kinds of hearsay arguments can be nuanced. Consider the felony case of J.S., who was on trial for assaulting his partner, S.B. In June 2019, the pair became involved in a dispute at their home in Cecil County. Police responded to the home and interviewed both the man and the woman.

During the man’s trial, the prosecution put one of the police officers on the witness stand. Under questioning from the prosecutor, the officer stated that the alleged victim told him that, before the officer arrived at the home, she had made plans to go to dinner with her mother, but that the accused had told her she was not free to leave the home and had pointed a gun at her head.

The accused man’s attorney objected, but the prosecutor argued that the testimony was permissible to explain why the officer conducted himself as he did at the scene. The trial judge accepted the state’s explanation and allowed the officer’s testimony. The jury eventually returned a guilty verdict.

Allowing that testimony before the jury was a mistake that deprived the accused man of a fair trial. The key to the outcome of this case, and the ruling in the accused man’s favor, turned upon what is — and what is not — inadmissible hearsay in a Maryland criminal trial.

A witness who testifies about an out-of-court statement somebody else made isn’t always providing inadmissible hearsay. In addition to being an out-of-court statement, inadmissible hearsay must be something that is introduced to prove the “truth of the matter asserted.” There are lots of other reasons why a party might introduce an out-of-court statement, including explaining the reasons for a person’s actions or exposing a witness’s lack of credibility.

‘Repeating Definite Complaints of a Particular Crime’ Made the Testimony Inadmissible

An out-of-court statement made to a police officer may be something about which the officer can testify if that testimony was relevant to explaining why the officer took the actions he/she did, but there are limits. If the officer “becomes more specific by repeating definite complaints of a particular crime by the accused,” then the statement is not admissible and should be excluded. Maryland courts have decided that, when an officer repeats those complaints of a specific crime by the accused, that creates an impermissibly high likelihood that the jury would misuse the testimony “as evidence of the underlying facts asserted.” As a result, it’s not admissible.

Had the officer said that he did what he did because of “information he received” or something similarly non-specific, as opposed to saying he did what he did because the alleged victim told him that the accused pointed a gun at her head earlier in the day, then the testimony could have been admissible. As it was, the defense was right to seek the statement’s exclusion.

Getting the best defense possible means having an advocate with in-depth knowledge of the law and extensive experience putting that knowledge to use effectively and powerfully. Count on the skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. to be that kind of powerful advocate for you. For answers to questions you have about your case, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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