Legal Memorandum: Hearsay Rule in PA

Issue: In Pennsylvania, how is the hearsay rule applied?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Hearsay rule; Hearsay exceptions
Jurisdiction: Pennsylvania
Cited Cases: 2000 Pa. Super. 303; 801 F.2d 810; 580 F.2d 1179; 761 A.2d 166; 514 Pa. 569
Cited Statutes: Pa. R. Evid. 801(c), 803, 804, 804(b)(1); Pa. R. Civ. P. 4020(a)(5); Pa. R. Evid. 804(b)(1); Pa. R. Civ. P. 4020, 4020(a)(3)(e)
Date: 12/01/2000

See Pa. R. Evid. 801(c); Heddings v. Steele, 514 Pa. 569, 526 A.2d 349 (1987).  While in-court testimony is clearly preferable to hearsay, when available, hearsay is permitted under the various recognized exceptions to the hearsay rule, as codified in the new Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence.  See Pa. R. Evid. 803, 804.  For instance, hearsay in the form of a deceased medical witness’ deposition is not only excepted to the rule against hearsay under the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, see Pa. R. Evid. 804(b)(1), it may also be admitted under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, which specifically provide that out-of-court depositions of medical witnesses may be admitted even if the witness is available to testify at trial,  See Pa. R. Civ. P. 4020(a)(5).

As leading commentators have pointed out, deposition testimony is inherently more trustworthy than testimony admitted under various other hearsay exceptions because it is taken under oath, the precise language used by the declarant is either transcribed or taped, and the sworn statement is subject to immediate cross-examination.  John W. Strong, et al., McCormick on Evidence 304 (Practitioner 4th ed. 1992). 

The new Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence specifically provide that hearsay evidence may be admitted according to existing rules prescribed by the Pennsylvania Supreme CourtSee Pa. R. Evid. 802

Pa. R. Evid. 804(b)(1) provides that:

(b) Hearsay Exceptions.  The following statements, as hereinafter defined, […]

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