Say you are in a car accident and at the scene of the accident you follow all the advice about what to do: you write down names, addresses and license plate numbers. You exchange insurance information. You ask around for eye witnesses. You wait for the police arrive, and most importantly, you watch them fill out their police report with all the details. You’ve done everything you can to establish a record of what happened in case a dispute arises later, right? Well now you’re in court and suddenly the judge is telling you that the police report—the one with all the information pointing to the fault of the other driver—isn’t going to be allowed in as evidence. The jury will never see it. Why not?
The short answer is because the police report is “hearsay”. Hearsay basically refers to a statement that was made out of court but that you want to use as proof in court. You can think of it as a witness getting on the stand and quoting someone or repeating what someone else said. The problem with hearsay is that most of the time it isn’t very reliable evidence—maybe the witness is misquoting the person who made the statement, or maybe they can’t provide any context for the statement. During trial, hearsay is usually not allowed.
See, when your case actually makes it to trial before a judge and jury, there are a number of rules—called the rules of evidence—that determine what things you can and cannot talk about in front of the jury. The judge is the ultimate moderator of these rules, serving as a sort of gatekeeper for the jury and who gets to decide what information they are going to hear. Several of these rules, including the rule about hearsay, attempt to make sure that the jury only hears information that is reliable and that they hear that information from the best source—straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
What does all of these have to do with your police report? Isn’t it reliable? It might seem reliable, but the hearsay rule tells us that because it was a document written outside of court that also has lots of quotes from other people—you, the other driver, eyewitnesses—then it is automatically considered unreliable. And since you can’t use the document in court, then you’re going to have to get your information straight from the source. That means that those individual people mentioned in the report, and the police officer who filled it out, will all need to take the stand. In this way, the hearsay rule helps to make sure that the jury has the most reliable and most complete information. An experienced lawyer who actually goes to court regularly will know how to share with the jury the evidence of fault and injury.
In a case where an overloaded truck smashed into a mini van in Franklin Farms, Herndon injury lawyer Doug Landau was able to use the car crash diagram from the Police Accident Report, even though the rest of the officer’s note were inadmissable as "Hearsay." This is because the officer was available to testify as to the accuracy of his accident scene diagram and he was able to be questioned by the trial judge and cross examined by the Defendant driver’s car insurance company defense lawyer. If you or someone you know or care for has been injured as the result of a car, truck, bicycle or motorcycle crash and there are questions about what laws apply, e-mail or call us at ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. (703-796-9555) at once.