The business records exception
to the U.S. hearsay rule
is based on Rule 803(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence
(FRE). It is sometimes referred to as the business entry rule
Scope of exception
, for the purposes of the exception, are any writings or records of acts, events, conditions, opinions, or diagnosis, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge are admissible if kept in the regular course of business and if it was the regular course of business to make that record, unless the source of information or circumstances of preparation indicate a lack of trustworthiness.
Business is used in Rule 803(6) to mean any business, institution, association, profession, or occupation, regardless of whether or not it is conducted for profit. Therefore, such records could conceivably include those of religious and charitable organizations, hospitals, schools, and other such organizations.
The basic rationale for the exception is that employees are under a duty to be accurate in observing, reporting, and recording business facts. The underlying belief is that special reliability is provided by the regularity with which the records are made and kept, as well as the incentive of employees to keep accurate records (under threat of termination
or other penalty). The exception functions to allow the record to substitute for the in-court testimony of the employees, but it can only substitute for what the employee could testify about. The availability of the declarant
(the employee whose testimony is being replaced by the record) is immaterial for the purposes of this exception.
Reliability of the statements in the record
It must be apparent to the judge that the record was made in the regular course of business, i.e., that it was customary practice to make such an entry and that the entrant had a duty to record it (either by law or by the terms of his employment). The record must have been made at or near the time of the act, event, or transaction at issue. Furthermore, the record must consist of matters either within the personal knowledge of the entrant or within the personal knowledge of someone with a duty to transmit the information to the entrant.
This last point was contested in the case of Johnson v. Lutz, 253 N.Y. 124, 170 N.E. 517 (1930), which held that record is admissible only when it is made by an employee on information obtained by him from an informant who himself was under a business duty to impart that information. The Johnson case, which dealt specifically with the admissibility of police reports, set a limitation on the use of such reports in court. Even though the police officer was under a duty to properly record the statements of an informant, the informant himself was under no duty to report the events correctly, and therefore the informant's statement was still inadmissible hearsay. The Johnson case is noted prominently in the Advisory Committee Notes to the Federal Rules of Evidence, and is frequently studied in U.S. law school courses on the Law of Evidence.
Limitation on admissibility of records prepared for litigation
In the case of Palmer v. Hoffman
, , the Supreme Court of the United States
ruled that an accident report created by a railroad
company which was prepared in anticipation of a lawsuit
by the victim was inadmissible, because it was not prepared in the regular course of business. Railroad travel, and not litigation, was the primary business of the railroad, and therefore the report was not considered sufficiently reliable to be admitted into evidence.
Lack of record as evidence
FRE 803(7) states the negative counterpart of the business records exception: the use of the lack of a record
to prove that a transaction or occurrence had not taken place, if it was the regular practice of the business to record such events if they had actually occurred.
Other types of business records
Under FRE 803(17), market reports and quotations
, directories, and other published compilations are considered generally admissible if they are generally used and relied upon by the public or by persons in particular occupations. Such information is considered admissible separate and apart from privately-made business records described above.
- BarBri Evidence Review outline, 2006, pp. 76-79.
- Fisher, George. Evidence. pp. 484-491. Foundation Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58778-176-X