What is hearsay and why does it matter to me when I’m in court?

If a hearing for a Civil Protective Order (CPO) is granted, the District Court will give both sides the opportunity to present evidence to support their case. For the person seeking the CPO (the “petitioner”), they will present evidence that the person against whom the CPO is sought (the “respondent”) presents a danger to the petitioner. The respondent then will present evidence that either contradicts the petitioner’s evidence, or evidence that shows that there is no present or future danger.

Under the CPO statute, Section 78B-7 of Utah Code, the court is to use the Utah Rules of Evidence, meaning that any evidence presented by either side should comply with the rules of evidence. Most often, however, courts will not strictly enforce these rules if neither party objects to the admission of certain evidence. Because of this, it is important to understand what evidence is admissible, and what evidence is inadmissible, to ensure that the other side’s case is not presented purely on inadmissible evidence.

The first type of evidence that is most commonly used by the petitioner in attempting to prove their case is called “hearsay.” Hearsay can be a difficult legal concept to understand, but generally it includes any evidence of statements made out-of-court where the person introducing the statement is attempting to prove that the statement was true. (See Utah Rules of Evidence Rule 801 for the exact definition of hearsay). For example, if the petitioner testifies that the respondent’s neighbor told her that the respondent “is a dangerous man” and the petitioner is using this evidence to prove that the respondent is actually a dangerous man, this would be considered hearsay (although it may be that this statement falls into one of the numerous hearsay exceptions).

While the petitioner’s evidence will mostly be made up of hearsay, there are numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule that may allow this type of evidence to still be admissible. The most common exception to the hearsay rule is statements that are made by the opposing party. (See Utah Rules of Evidence Rule 802(d)(2)). Under this exception, if the statement that the petitioner is attempting to introduce into evidence is a statement that was made by the respondent, then the generally the statement will be admissible. For example, if the petitioner testifies that the respondent said to the petitioner “I will kill you,” then the evidence is admissible under the exception.

Because petitioners in CPO cases are likely to rely heavily on hearsay evidence to prove their case, it is essential to have an attorney who will be able to distinguish between the types of inadmissible hearsay and hearsay that falls within an exception. By keeping out inadmissible hearsay evidence, the respondent generally stands a much better chance of having a much more fair hearing.

For more information on the hearsay rule see this article on LegalZoom:

https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/objection-hearsay-what-is-the-hearsay-rule-and-what-are-the-exceptions-to-it

Michael Hepworth

Michael Hepworth

Managing Attorney at Hepworth & Associates
Michael is the Managing Attorney of Hepworth & Associates, LLC.
Michael Hepworth

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