The Business Records Exception to the Hearsay Rule: How to Introduce Documents at Trial
The business records exception to the hearsay rule is arguably the most widely used means of introducing documents into evidence at trial. Depending on the jurisdiction, it can cover a broad range of documents, including: memoranda, reports, charts, invoices, compilations, and much more.
Many jurisdictions define the term “business” very loosely to encompass a wide range of entities. This may include also non-business entities, non-profits, religious or educational institutions, etc.
This article and videos are not state-specific and do not constitute legal advice or opinions. You must always read and follow the laws and court rules in your jurisdiction. Please read Legal Seagull’s disclaimer before proceeding.
Know the Hearsay Rule
To fully grasp the business records exception, you must first understand the hearsay rule, which generally forbids out-of-court statements that are offered for the truth of the matters asserted. Each jurisdiction may have its own version of the hearsay rule (and business records exception), but many jurisdictions model their rules (partially or fully) on Rules 801-807 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Before learning how to lay a foundation using the business records exception, you MUST be familiar with the rules in your jurisdiction regarding how to properly introduce an exhibit into evidence.
To learn more about the hearsay rule and its many exceptions, and evidence law in general, check out Legal Seagull's video litigation tutorial Introduction to Evidence Law:
A document is inadmissible hearsay unless it qualifies as an exclusion or exception to the hearsay rule. For that reason (and others), understanding the business records exception is critical for anyone considering taking a case to trial!
Laying a Foundation for the Business Records Exception
Once you have followed the steps for introducing your exhibit, you may then proceed to ask the necessary foundational questions for the business records exception. Again, these will differ depending on your jurisdiction.
Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, for example, a party must show that:
- The record was made by a person with knowledge of the information contained in it;
- The record was made at or near the time of the event;
- It was the business’ regular practice to make these types of records; and
- The record was kept in the course of a regularly conducted activity.
Confused? No worries! Check out Trial Essentials for video simulations depicting introduction of business records through the business records exception:
Once you have laid the necessary foundational questions and offered the record into evidence (assuming the judge accepts it), you can then ask specific questions about the contents of the record.
Beware of Double Hearsay (AKA Hearsay Within Hearsay) Issues
It is important to remember that even if you get a document admitted into evidence with the business records exception, you could still run into a problem with double hearsay (AKA hearsay within hearsay) if the document contains other hearsay statements (e.g., witness statements, handwritten notes, etc.).
In that case, you will likely need to find a valid basis for admitting those internal hearsay statements. This includes showing that the statements (1) do not fall under the relevant statute’s definition of “hearsay”; or (2) fall under a valid exception or exclusion to the hearsay rule.
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