The Ryan Lochte robbery story has gone viral. And apparently most of what has been printed is not true. The robbery doesn’t appear to have ever occurred. But really it is a funny story about how the story spread and proves why hearsay evidence is not reliable.
Here is what I think occurred: From what I have gathered Ryan Lochte was out for a night of carousing with his Olympic swimming buddies and someone appears to have damaged the wall of a restroom at a gas station. They probably punched the wall. No big deal right? Well it wasn’t at that point, but when Lochte next talked to his mother, Ileana he apparently didn’t tell her the story exactly as it happened.
Allegedly, Ileana while in a cab told passengers her son, an Olympic swimmer, had been robbed. Another passenger asked if her son was Ryan Lochte which she confirmed. At that point this passenger Tweeted out that Ryan Lochte had been robbed at gun point by someone posing as a police officer. The Tweet went viral and news organizations fed off of the story. The police in Rio get involved and in the end the story appears to be nothing more than hearsay. The mother was not present at the event, does not have actual knowledge of the event and learned of it through someone else who is not present in the cab.
This is exactly why hearsay evidence is not admissible and is unreliable.
“Hearsay is an out of court statement, made in court, to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, hearsay is evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.”
Was there a robbery? Was Ryan Lochte robbed at gun point? The answer to these questions appears to be a resounding “NO”. So what is wrong with type of evidence? And why is evidence based on hearsay generally inadmissible in a court of law?
Let’s start off with saying the cab is the courtroom. Ryan is the out-of-court witness who allegedly made this statement about being robbed. His mother is the witness and Ryan isn’t in the cab. The truth we are attempting to get at is whether Ryan Lochte was robbed at gunpoint.
Hearsay evidence is "an out-of-court statement introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein". In certain courts, hearsay evidence is inadmissible (the "Hearsay Evidence Rule") unless an exception to the Hearsay Rule applies.
For example, to prove Tom was in town, the attorney asks a witness, "What did Susan tell you about Tom being in town?" Since the witness' answer will rely on an out-of-court statement that Susan made, Susan is not available for cross-examination, and it is to prove the truth that Tom was in town, it is hearsay. A justification for the objection is that the person who made the statement is not in court and thus is insulated from cross examination. Note, however, that if the attorney asking the same question is not trying to prove the truth of the assertion about Tom being in town but the fact that Susan said the specific words, it may be acceptable. For example, it would be acceptable to ask a witness what Susan told them about Tom in a defamation case against Susan because now the witness is asked about the opposing party's statement that constitutes a verbal act.
The hearsay rule does not exclude the evidence if it is an operative fact. Language of commercial offer and acceptance is also admissible over a hearsay exception because the statements have independent legal significance.
What do you think of Ryan Lochte's situation? It's actually sort of funny and proves the concept of why hearsay evidence is not admissible. Allegedly it starts out with him lying to his mother; who repeats the story in a cab as if it were fact, which is overheard by a "reporter" who then Tweets it. None of it appears to be true, but the story quickly spreads as if it were actual fact.
“Ryan Steven Lochte is an American competitive swimmer and a 12-time Olympic medalist, which ranks him second in swimming behind Michael Phelps. His seven individual Olympic medals rank near the top in men's swimming.”