I have a confession. I love to read John Grisham’s books. I just finished Sycamore Row. It was a great story. Many of the characters were from Grisham’s first book . Jake Brigance returns to try a will contest case. The trial revisits emotions from a time long ago. I highly recommend the book.
During the trial , one critical evidence issue comes up. One of the heirs disappears . .Ancil Hubbard is found in Alaska on the eve of the trial. A videotape statement made under oath is taken in Alaska and is rushed to Jake to save the trial. The judge lets the video in and it changes the trial. The question is in fiction anything can happen, but how would it play out under the Tennessee Rules of Evidence.
The video statement is clearly hearsay. Hearsay is one of the bedrock rules of evidence. The basic rule is hearsay testimony is excluded unless it falls under some exception of which there are many. In reviewing the Tennessee Rules of Evidence Rule 804 may be the best argument Mr.Brigance can use to get the video admitted into evidence.
First some background , Ancil was the brother of the decedent Seth Hubbard. The video explains why he made his holographic will which disinherited his family. To complicate the matter , Ancil can’t attend trial because he is facing a cocaine charge and is now in jail. Ancil is unavailable for trial.
Rule 804 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence allows certain exceptions to the ban on hearsay evidence if the declarant is unavailable . The rule allows a statement of personal and family history. Part (B) of the rule could allow Ancil to testify to the past family history which lead Seth Hubbard to change his will.
Jake didn’t argue this rule with the judge , but the judge let in the video. The takeaway for lawyers is know the rules of evidence when you want to get critical evidence admitted. For readers , enjoy the book.