Let’s say that you are appearing in court to defend yourself against one of the literally millions of false allegations perpetrated yearly by law enforcement personnel in the form of a “transportation” related civil infraction or criminal offense. Both are usually fine only punishments, and where they aren’t, the facts won’t differ between them in relation to the contents of this article. The rules of evidence work the same in either type of case. You just need to know them well enough to put them into action and nullify the prosecutions witness, and thus, their entire case.
When you are questioning the officer on the stand during the trial, and you attempt to ask the officer some question relating to the law, such as the legal definition of specific terminology, and it is something that the officer would logically and/or necessarily have to know in order to support reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain or arrest for an allege an offense, you will often be interrupted by the prosecution objecting with the claim that the officer is not required to know the answer to the question. The prosecution will do this despite the fact that an officer actually is required and must know the answer to the question, because it would have been legally impossible for the officer to have obtained reasonable suspicion or probable cause if the officer either does not know and/or is incapable of recognizing the essential criminal elements necessary to enforce that law and allege an offense.
Now, while this might be a proper objection where your question is asked in a way that could not be reasonably comprehended and answered (i.e. the content, context, or grammar of your question totally sucked and made no sense), it would not be true if the question was very straightforward and clear. The prosecution’s objection would also be true if the question has nothing to do with the actual laws relating to the offense or the duties and responsibilities of the officer sitting on the stand (i.e. you asked a patrol officer about how the department determines personnel policy or handles a payroll issue). Otherwise, as long as your question is on-point with the law and facts of the case at hand, the officer would have to know the answer to the question in order to have ever acquired reasonable suspicion or probable cause so as to properly make the allegation of an offense. Therefore, it is simply legally impossible that the prosecution’s claim could be even remotely true in most instances or for every question relating to the law as it pertains to the matter before the court.
There is also the issue of the prosecutor making a statement of fact from their own mouth during a trial about what the officer is or is not required to know about the law in order to testify as to exactly how the officer applied that law in order to make an allegation of an offense. The prosecutor is actually trying to testify on the record as to what the officer is or is not required to know in order to answer the question, and this the prosecutor simply cannot do. A prosecutor may not make any original statement of fact from their own mouth in place of any witness, nor make any legal determinations about what the witness is or is not allowed to respond to on the stand. Nor does a prosecutor have any lawful purpose or delegated authority to determine what a police officer is or is not lawfully or legally required to know in order to perform their duties or testify to a statement of facts that the officer allegedly observed and used to formulate reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a crime, as the officer could not possibly or reasonably formulate either if they actually don’t know the proper answer to the question s/he was asked on the stand about the legal meaning and application of certain terminology in relation to the alleged offense.
Part of the oath taken and the training received by every police officer is to uphold and enforce the State and Federal Constitutions, and the laws of the state where they are employed, i.e. they are required to know what fundamental rights are inherent and protected under those instruments in order to properly perform their duties. They also take an oath to know and remain current on the laws of the state in which they are employed so as to properly perform their duties and serve the public. These oaths and the duty to “know the law” are mandatory, as is adherence to their terms and conditions. An officer cannot reasonably claim ignorance of the content and meaning of the Bill of Rights or the legal duties inherently contained in the oaths s/he takes to uphold and protect those rights when they take them, otherwise the officer would not be employable. How then is it reasonable for some prosecutor or judge to assert that an officer can be partially or totally ignorant of the law and still be able to properly perform his or her duties in a manner that complies with that law and the individual rights of the people?
Therefore, it is simply not logically or legally possible that an officer is not or cannot be required to both know and understand the necessary and essential elements of any criminal act governed by a law they are attempting to enforce. To say that this is the case, as the prosecutor has just done, is to say that the officer is incompetent and unqualified to even understand the law, much less to enforce the law or testify to anything in relation to the specific elements of an alleged offense under that law. For example, if an officer is not required to know and understand what the proper legal definition of a “vehicle,” “driver,” or “operator” actually is, then how could an officer use these terms to acquire reasonable suspicion or probable cause, as they are essential key elements of any “transportation” related offense? How does an officer allege the element of “motor vehicle” in charging an offense without first having competent firsthand knowledge of what the legal meaning of “motor vehicle” even is? And that same question applies to each and every term and phrase that is used to construct a statute and any related offense therein.
*NOTE: As an aside, this shortcoming in legal logic is precisely why a criminal complaint is not required to be filed by a competent fact witness having firsthand knowledge of the facts alleged therein, as well as why its language is formulated as “I have reason to believe and do believe…” rather than “I have direct personal knowledge that the allegations made herein against John Smith are absolutely true.” therefore, while the person making the complaint may believe the alleged facts to be true, do they have actual competent firsthand knowledge that they really are true? This is an important point of law, for it is an irrefutable legal fact that, unless a person providing testimony absolutely does have competent firsthand personal knowledge of the alleged facts, s/he cannot legally testify to such facts under oath as actually being true, except when that person has been sworn in as an expert witness and allowed to submit opinion rather than fact, which the cop absolutely isn’t and cannot do.
It is a direct violation of the rules of evidence to allow the officer to testify to facts of which s/he does not have personal knowledge and understanding under the admissibility and hearsay rules. So, if the officer does not know the proper legal definition or meaning for each of these terms in the first place, then the officer is actually legally incompetent to testify to any of them as being an actual fact. It is illogical that a judge would accept the prosecutor’s objection as valid when logic says that a witness cannot make and testify to a statement of fact, i.e. that the accused was “operating” a “motor vehicle,” without first knowing the correct legal meaning and application of each of those terms within the governing statutes. It is a logical fallacy to assert that the facts alleged in the complaint are true and correct when the officer/witness or other Affiant on the complaint cannot reasonably be testifying from personal knowledge about those facts when they know absolutely nothing about their proper legal meaning within the statutes, especially when those specific terms are actual elements of the alleged offense.
So, the question must be asked, just how can an officer testify that “I saw the defendant operating a motor vehicle in the 1600 block of Fantasy Ave. …” when the officer cannot properly testify to what “operating” and “motor vehicle” even mean in relation to the statutory definition and the constitutionally required single subject context? If the officer doesn’t know the legal definitions of the specific terms and phrases used to formulate the statute and establish the legal criteria that defines “operate” and “motor vehicle,” s/he is not testifying from personal knowledge, but from the hearsay of something or someone else other than the law itself.
Therefore, how does the officer truthfully testify that you were “operating” a “motor vehicle” by any means other than personal knowledge of the actual law under which s/he formulated the charge being made against you? Logic says that if the officer is legally capable and competent to formulate the charge itself by rationalizing reasonable suspicion or probable cause, then the officer is legally capable and competent to answer a question about the law and the specific legal elements s/he used to do it. Since there must be a written probable cause statement doing this very thing, and it must be signed by someone with actual knowledge of the facts alleged in the statement, it is incomprehensible that an officer could not and does not have to be required to know the legal definition and meaning of the statutory terms and phrases that they are signing their name to under penalty of perjury as being actual fact.
This is the same legal principle and theory that prevents an officer from testifying in a speeding case where s/he has no clue about how a radar gun works or its accuracy if s/he is not specifically trained on every aspect of the device, including how to maintain it, test it, and the specific mathematical formula it uses to perform its calculations and reaches its conclusions of speed. Otherwise, if the officer doesn’t know and can’t do the math themselves to verify the radar gun, then everything the officer does in these cases is hearsay motivated and operating by the impetus of the officer’s own personal opinion based upon unsubstantiated legal suppositions, presumptions, and conclusions of law, not the law.
In which case, when a prosecutor objects on the grounds that “the officer isn’t required to know that,” they are actually admitting that their witness is legally and factually incompetent to testify to those facts because they actually lack personal knowledge, and would be both committing perjury and violating the admissibility and hearsay rules by answering. This is why I object right back to the prosecutor’s objection with something like this:
“I have a multipart objection to enter into the record in response judge:
First, I object because the prosecution is saying the officer is not required to know the specific legal criteria for the elements of the charge. Which, if true, means that the officer could not possibly provide any articulable facts supporting either reasonable suspicion or probable cause at the time of the initial warrantless seizure and arrest of Respondent. Without knowing the answer to this question, as it pertains directly to the statutory elements required to allege the commission of an offense, the officer could not possibly have had the required reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the warrantless seizure and arrest or to charge an actual offense.
Second, I further object because I never asked the officer if s/he was required to know this information, I asked if s/he did know this information. As the court is now well aware, if the officer doesn’t know, then that means that probable cause could never have existed and the officer’s testimony is not based upon personal knowledge of any facts, but rather his/her own unsubstantiated personal opinion and legal presumptions, conclusions, and speculations, i.e. its hearsay. Which, if true, makes the officer’s testimony inadmissible under the rules of evidence, as such is not covered by any of the hearsay exceptions or the rules governing expert witnesses, especially since the officer has not been vetted and qualified to testify as an expert witness in this trial.
Third, in relation to the facts and logic of the first and second parts, what Respondent is actually understanding the prosecution’s objection to really mean is that their primary fact witness is legally incompetent to testify in response to the question, which is directly relating to specific factual elements in this case. Every relevant fact of the charged offense relates to some specific statutory element defining precisely how the commission of that offense occurs under the law. Factual elements that the prosecutor just stated the officer is not legally required to know, and, if true, now creates the legal presumption that the officer actually does not and never did know them at all, but is still being allowed to testify to them as being facts without having the personal knowledge required to do so. That violates Respondent’s right of due process and goes right back to reasonable suspicion and probable cause never having existed in the first instance, making the initial warrantless seizure and arrest of Respondent absolutely unconstitutional and illegal.
Fourth, I object to the prosecutor’s attempt to testify in this case by making a statement of fact disguised as an objection about what the witness is or is not required to know in order to testify to the facts of the case when it is legally impossible for this officer to do so without first having personal knowledge of the specific elements of any alleged offense under the laws in question, including the proper legal meaning and application of specific related terminology.
Therefore, if the court sustains the prosecutions objection, Respondent must necessarily move the court to have the witness’ testimony stricken from the record and declared inadmissible in its entirety, and to demand that the witness(es) be declared legally incompetent and unqualified to testify at all to any statutory fact element of the alleged offense for lack of personal knowledge.”
In other words, most prosecutors will more often than not provide you with the means to discredit their own witness in these kinds of cases in exactly this or some very similar manner. You just have to listen and actually know how to rebut the objection that they will almost certainly make the instant that you try to prove the witness is legally incompetent to testify. Don’t let them get away with it.
Now, if the judge sustains the prosecutor’s objection, then you make yours to have the witness declared legally incompetent to testify to any facts in the case. If the judge sides with you and grants your motion, all that remains is for you to move the court to dismiss the case with prejudice for lack of evidence and/or an eyewitness with personal knowledge. Just make sure to get a signed order from the court before you leave, or get someone on record telling you when the order will be delivered to you via mail or other means.
 Texas Constitution, Art. 16, Sec. 1(a) OFFICIAL OATH.
 Texas Occupations Code, Sec. 1701.253(e).
 Texas Administrative Code, Title 37 Public Safety and Corrections, Part 1 Texas Department of Public Safety, Chapter 1 Organization and Administration, Subchapter H Professional Conduct, Rule §1.113 International Association of Chiefs of Police Canons of Police Ethics.
 Texas Administrative Code, Title 37 Public Safety and Corrections, Part 7 Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Chapter 218 Continuing Education, Rule §218.3 Legislatively Required Continuing Education for Licensees.
 Texas Constitution, Article 3, Sec. 35 – Subjects and Titles of Bills.
5 thoughts on “Incompetency or Hearsay, and Does It Matter Under the Rules of Evidence?”
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Thanks, Eddie. As you know some of the stuff you have in here helped me beat a traffic ticket a few months ago.
Thank you, and you are welcome too. lol
This is a great article. Really helping me think through my cases in advance. You’re the best!
Thank you. I did just do an update to some of the grammar and added a side note to the article for some extra clarification that you might want to look over as well.