When discussing the types of statements that people make and how they relate to a court of law, we put them into categories in order to define how we must regard them. One of the more unusual types of speech is what is referred to as an excited utterance. In this article, we will discuss five things you should know about this type of communication.
It's a response to a shock
An excited utterance is something that you would say in response to a shocking or startling event; for example, if you get in a car accident or witness an act of violence. Under those conditions, anything you say generally comes from a stressed state. You have not yet fully processed the situation at hand, and make statements that directly relate to the event. The information that you divulge in this state is considered to be more truthful than things you might say at other times, because in the direct aftermath of the shocking event, you are not yet able to process your thoughts fully.
It's a type of hearsay
Excited utterances are considered to be a type of hearsay. Hearsay is a statement that was originally made outside of court, but that has been repeated in a legal setting. Hearsay is not admissible in court; however, there are exceptions.
It's admissible in court
Excited utterances are a type of hearsay admissible in court. That means that the statements made to law enforcement in the middle of an unfolding shocking situation can be used against the person who spoke them. These words can then set the tone of the trial.
Just as the situation that preceded the utterance is important, so is the timing of the utterance itself. This is because you will, at a certain point, no longer be reacting to your first experience of the disturbing event. Your words generally become less spontaneous as time goes on, and your speech would no longer be considered an excited utterance. The context surrounding what you said is very important, and for this reason, it is carefully considered in a court of law. There is, however, no set time during which something is determined to be an excited utterance, and a number of court cases have determined that things said within 45 minutes, 75 minutes and even 3 hours of the event were sufficiently influenced by the incident to be included in the excited utterances category.
911 calls often qualify
Very often, the circumstances surrounding a 911 phone call will classify the statements made as excited utterances, meaning that they will be admissible in court. The events recorded are typically happening in real time, and the caller is typically experiencing duress. Even so, under cross examination, errors and contradictions can be pointed out in order to undermine the credibility of what has been said.
If your legal case will involve an excited utterance, you need an experienced lawyer who can help put the event in context and protect your rights in the courtroom to the fullest possible extent.