Key Concepts

  • Hearsay within hearsay (“double hearsay”) is admissible if both parts of the statement are covered by a hearsay exception.

The Basic Rule

Rule 805 – Hearsay within Hearsay

Hearsay included within hearsay is not excluded under the hearsay rule if each part of the combined statements conforms with an exception to the hearsay rule provided in these rules.

G.S. 8C-805; see also G.S. 8C-805, Official Commentary (“it scarcely seems open to doubt that the hearsay rule should not call for exclusion of a hearsay statement which includes a further hearsay statement when both conform to the requirements of a hearsay exception”).

Admissibility and Scope

Rule 805 states that hearsay within hearsay (commonly described as “double hearsay”) is admissible as long as each part of the statement qualifies under a hearsay exception. See State v. Chapman, 359 N.C. 328 (2005); State v. Larrimore, 340 N.C. 119 (1995); State v. Hammonds, 45 N.C. App. 495 (1980).

For example, medical records from a hospital might contain a statement made by a child’s mother about how the injury occurred. A hospital record generally is a business record admissible under Rule 803(6). However, in this instance, the person who made the statement at issue (the mother) was not the person who created the record for the business, so her statement within that record constitutes “hearsay within hearsay.” But since the mother’s statement is independently admissible as a statement made for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment under Rule 803(4), each part of the record conforms to a hearsay exception and the mother’s statement in the record is admissible. See G.S. 8C-805, Official Commentary.

If the second part of a statement is hearsay and there is no exception that applies, it is not admissible and must be redacted or omitted. See, e.g., State v. Sisk, 123 N.C. App. 361 (1996), aff’d in part, 345 N.C. 749 (1997) (business records in forgery case included affidavits written “by a person other than the person(s) compiling the business record which are recorded within the record” so the affidavits were double hearsay, and since no exception applied to the affidavits it was error to admit them as substantive evidence); State v. Thomas, 119 N.C. App. 708 (1995) (mother could not testify as to what her child reportedly heard another child say about being abused – the first child’s statement to the second child was admissible as an excited utterance, but the second child’s repetition of that statement to the mother was a second level of hearsay not covered by any exception); State v. White, 331 N.C. 604 (1992) (sexual assault allegation that was made to defendant's sister, repeated by sister to a witness, and further repeated by that witness to police was inadmissible triple hearsay).

If the statement at issue is not hearsay under Rule 801 (e.g., only offered for corroboration or to show effect on the listener), Rules 802 and 805 have no bearing on the matter and the statement is not barred. See, e.g., State v. Miller, 197 N.C. App. 78 (2009) (defendant’s interview with police was properly admitted under hearsay exception for statement of a party opponent -- statements from third parties that were repeated in that interview were not double hearsay because they were only offered to show the effect they had on the defendant, not for the truth of the matter asserted); State v. Chapman, 359 N.C. 328 (2005) (Rule 805 did not apply where the “words of the unidentified caller contained within defendant's statement to Detective Sinclair are not hearsay because they were not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted"); State v. Hurst, 127 N.C. App. 54 (1997) (statements of co-perpetrator's now-deceased former girlfriend regarding murder plot were offered to establish defendant's participation in planning crime, rather than to prove truth of matter asserted, so they did not constitute hearsay within hearsay).

Portions of this entry were excerpted from Jessica Smith, “Criminal Evidence: Hearsay,” North Carolina Superior Court Judges’ Benchbook, October 2013.