The Corner

Hear-Then-Say

Randy Barnett knows the law, of course, while I, of course, do not. As usual, however, there are readers of this Corner who are capable of filling in every gap in my knowledge, and one just wrote to help me out in the little “hearsay” kerfuffle:

More on Barnett: Your usage was right not only in the colloquial sense, but legally as well. Professor Barnett’s very court-centric discussion ignores the essence of hearsay: a speaker (or writer) reporting someone else’s words. In or out of court, hearsay is reciting what someone else said, in contrast to direct testimony which is reporting things you have experienced or observed yourself.

The word almost defines itself. Hear-then-say. Our legal system traditionally regards such second-hand information as unreliable. But when a person reports her own direct experience, it’s not hearsay.

Thus, when the charges against Arnold went from rumors and whispers to actual accusers who said “Arnold groped me,” the accusations were not hearsay, not even in the legal sense. The accusers are reporting their (alleged) personal experience.

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