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Admissions by Party Opponents vs. Declarations Against Interests

In my last blog, I wrote of the rule pertaining to admissions of party opponents, 801(d)(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence. Let’s contrast that to Rule 804(b)(3)’s declarations against interests exception. The most fundamental difference between these two exceptions is that in the first exception the declarant must be an opposing party, whereas in the second exception, the declarant can be any relevant person to the case who is unavailable to testify at the trial.

However, the most significant difference between the two exceptions is that Rule 801(d)(2) allows any prior statement made by the declarant to be introduced whereas Rule 804(b)(3) only allows those statements which cut against the declarant’s interests. For a statement to be against the declarant’s interests, it must be one that a reasonable person would only make if they believed that statement to be true at the time it was said.

In civil cases– and personal injury law is my focus– we often encounter admissions by party opponents, but hardly ever, if at all, encounter declarations against interests. The admissions by party opponents exception allows for a broader scope of declarations. Sometimes it is said that a particular thought or person is a mile wide and an inch deep. I have found admissions of party opponents to be a mile wide and, happily, a mile deep.

 

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