spontaneous exclamation

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Also called an excited utterance, a spontaneous exclamation is a statement made in the midst of a startling event, with no opportunity for premeditation or deliberation. Spontaneous exclamations are significant in evidence because they are one of several exceptions to the hearsay rule, which generally prohibits out of court statements from being admitted, as they cannot be verified during trial. However, admission (as evidence during a trial) of spontaneous exclamations are justified on the grounds that they are made under circumstances that negate the possibility for the speaker to deliberate, and potentially fabricate, the statement.

Whether a statement constitutes an admissible excited utterance depends on the particular facts of the case. According to Connecticut courts, such an utterance must: (1) follow some startling occurrence; (2) refer to the occurrence; (3) be made by one having the opportunity to observe the occurrence; and (4) be made in such close connection to the occurrence (temporally) as to negate the opportunity for deliberation. 

In regards to the last element, some jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, have held that spontaneous exclamation must be made within a "reasonably short period of the time after the occurrence so as to assure that the declarant has not reflected upon his statement or premeditated or constructed it." There is no strict threshold for when a period for a spontaneous exclamation lasts and what constitutes a reasonable time is usually to the trial court's discretion.  

As a result, statements made after the occurrence may still be admitted under the spontaneous exclamation exception. For example, the Supreme Court of Connecticut has held that where a victim escaped from her kidnappers and made a phone call to police half an hour later, the statements made by the victim to the officers constitutes a spontaneous exclamation because she was still under the stress of the preceding event, and that she had no opportunity to confer with anyone else before making those statements. Moreover, even statements made in response to a question does not preclude its admission as a spontaneous exclamation. 

In criminal proceedings, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment is sometimes used to challenge and limit the admissibility of spontaneous exclamations (and hearsay evidence in general). 

[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]