That’s hearsay!:

The excited-utterance exception

That’s hearsay!: The excited-utterance exception

This short post is the third installment on the topic of hearsay.  Specifically, addressed here is the second of the 16 hearsay exceptions known as the excited-utterance exception.  The exception is defined as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.  Pa.R.Evid. 803(2).

The underlying rationale for why “excited utterances” made out of court are allowed to be restated in court without the need of the person who made the utterance was well stated by former Chief Justice Ronald Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court:

The underlying rationale of the excited utterance exception is the notion that a statement made in the excitement of a startling event, before the speaker has the opportunity to reflect on the event, has sufficient indicia of truthfulness to warrant admission.

An excited utterance is the event speaking and not the speaker.  It is an exception to the hearsay rule, carved from human experience, which teaches that an unreflected, spontaneous utterance made under the impact of a shocking, unexpected emotion, precipitated by a traumatic event, renders the speaker the medium and not the message.  Such an utterance is allowed in evidence because it is spontaneous and unreflected, without influence from thought, design and reason.

Commonwealth v. Wholaver, 989 A.2d 883, 909 (Castille, C.J., concurring)

In other words, as a society, we find it likely that a statement made under exciting circumstances is likely to be accurate and reliable because the lack of opportunity to fabricate; therefore, we are okay to admit such statements into court.  And if you’re thinking: that rationale sounds very similar to the rationale for admitting statements of a present-sense impression.  Well . . . you’d correct.  But there is a difference between the two exceptions, and that difference is discussed in the comments to the Rules of Evidence.

This [excited-utterance] exception has a more narrow base than the exception for a present sense impression, because it required an event or condition that is startling.  However, it is broader in scope because an excited utterance (1) need not describe or explain the startling event or condition; it need only relate to it, and (2) need not be made contemporaneously with, or immediately after, the startling event.  It is sufficient if the stress of excitement created by the startling event or condition persists as a substantial factor in provoking the utterance.

So the excited utterance is similar to the present-sense impression, but the main difference lies in the needs for a startling event.  If you got that, then you got a pass by the prohibition against hearsay.