Hearsay and the Excited Utterance Exception

Hearsay is a statement made out of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Though hearsay is inadmissible during trial, there are a few exceptions to the rule. One such exception to the hearsay rule  is an excited utterance.

An excited utterance is a statement that concerns a startling event, made by the declarant when the declarant is still under stress from the startling event.  The basis for this hearsay exception is the belief that a statement made under stress is likely to be trustworthy and unlikely to be premeditated falsehoods.  An excited utterance overcomes the inherent untrustworthiness of hearsay because it is believed that the startling event that produced the utterance produced such an effect on the declarant as to render his reflective capabilities inoperative. Marquardt v. State, 164 Md. App. 95, 128, 882 A.2d 900, 920 (2005).

When determining whether or not an excited utterance has occurred, the totality of the circumstances under which that statement was made has to be examined. Time alone is not dispositive. Instead,  condition of the declarant must be evaluated. Although a declarant may be somewhat shaken by an incident, it is beyond credibility to suggest that coherent and descriptive responses are impulsive or spontaneous.

In Marquardt the court determined there was an excited utterance because the victim was unclothed from the waist up and had blood on her face. She could not provide an unbroken coherent statement, but rather gave “bits of information.” She was crying, “emotionally upset,” and “at the point where she was hysterical.” The event causing her hysteria had ended only minutes before. The court determined the statements that the victim made to officers were excited utterances.

Marquardt further determined that an excited utterance did not occur because Burns was “crying off and on” she did not “break down in tears … to any questions [Officer Cathcart] might have asked her.” Although Burns was “still a little upset” and “crying,” “the essence of the excited utterance exception is the inability of the declarant to have reflected on the events about which the statement is concerned.”

The determination of the excited utterance exception to hearsay is evaluated based  on the condition of the declarant when they make their statement. If the statement is composed, coherent, and reflective it is unlikely that an excited utterance has occurred.

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