The Admission of Government Fact Findings Under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(C): Limiting the Dangers of Unreliable Hearsay
University of Kansas Law Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, Spring 1990
48 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2009
Date Written: Spring 1990
Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(C), an exception to the rule against admission of hearsay, permits introduction of public records or reports containing the fact findings of the reporter without requiring the reporter to appear at trial. These fact findings can be based upon the reporter's own observations and calculations or information imparted to the reporter from sources having no connection to any public agency whatsoever. Rule 803(8)(C) has also been used as the vehicle for presenting juries with fact findings from hearings conducted by public officials. The rule would seem to allow these fact findings even though the opponent had no opportunity to challenge either the finding or any of the witnesses whose testimony led to it. This Article contends that admitting many of the fact findings discussed above without demonstrable need or strong assurances of their reliability undercuts the bases for the hearsay rules and can result in jury consideration of highly prejudicial evidence. In Beech Aircraft Corporation v. Rainey, the Supreme Court interpreted the 'factual findings'' provision of 803(8)(C) broadly to include 'conclusions' and 'opinions' of the investigator. While the decision in Beech Aircraft is sensible in its recognition of the difficulty in distinguishing 'factual findings' from 'opinions' and 'conclusions', it will result in an expansion of the type of hearsay-based evidence that will be admitted under Rule 803(8)(C). Where a hearsay exception expands both the allowable sources of hearsay information and the type of hearsay-based evidence admitted, extreme care should be taken to ensure that questionably reliable or prejudicial evidence is not submitted to a jury without the opportunity to test the evidence through cross-examination. Rule 803(8)(C) was not drafted nor has it been generally applied with such caution. First, this Article explores some of the problems encountered by courts in applying Rule 803(8)(C) and explains some of the unfairness that can result if it is not applied carefully. Second, it describes the Supreme Court's Beech Aircraft decision allowing opinions and conclusions into evidence under Rule 803(8)(C). Third, the Article describes a suggested reading of Rule 803(8)(C) in conjunction with the rules on expert witnesses that should help courts determine which opinions and conclusions should be admissible. Finally, the Article offers additional suggestions to insure the fair application of Rule 803(8)(C).
Keywords: Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(C), public records, public reports, admission of hearsay, prejudicial evidence, fact finding
JEL Classification: K19, K39, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation