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"Multi-carIn my last Atlanta, Georgia legal blog post, I talked about a very old
and traditional law in Georgia that will come to an end when our new evidence
statute takes effect. Res gestae is an exception to the hearsay rule.
Under the hearsay rule, courts will not allow testimony about what someone
who does not come to the court said. The courts believe that testimony
would be better heard from the person who supposedly made the comment,
and that unless that person is present, the testimony is not trustworthy
enough for a court of law. Under the new evidence rules, Georgia will
still have exceptions to the hearsay rule, but not res gestae.

Until those new rules take effect, however, res gestae remains the law
in Georgia and affects those of us who are personal injury lawyers in
Georgia, so I want to continue my discussion about that topic today. Res
gestae statements are testimony about comments made by someone who is
not available to testify in the courtroom – often because they have
died, or because they cannot be found. Courts have concluded that if certain
criteria are met, res gestae statements are reliable enough to be brought
into the trial of a case, even if the person who made the statement is
not available to testify.

As an Atlanta personal injury lawyer, I generally deal with res gestae
in the context of a Georgia car accident lawsuit or a Georgia personal
injury lawsuit. If a police officer gets to the scene of the car accident
to find a dying pedestrian, and the person gasps out, “The red car
came up on the sidewalk and hit me,” the testimony may well come
into evidence as part of the res gestae.

But res gestae applies in the criminal context as well. For example, in
Jennings v. State, 292 Ga. App. 149, 664 S.E. 2d 149 (Ga. Ct. App. 2008), someone had called
911. When a police officer arrived at the scene a few minutes later, “an
unidentified female who was upset approached [the police officer] outside
the residence and informed him that ‘something bad was happening
[b]ecause she said she saw these men with these guns. . . . She had said
that she saw these men going in the home; they had handguns; and they
closed the door; and she couldn’t see anything from there. She just
knew something bad had to be happening with them having handguns.'”
Id., 292 Ga. App. at 153-154, 664 S.E. 2d at 253. The Court of Appeals
agreed that the statements of the unknown woman were part of the res gestae. See also
Gaines v. State, 232 Ga. 727, 730 (Ga. 1974). In the Gaines case, an officer testified
that immediately after he heard a shot, he “saw [the victim] lying
on the ground [and] an unidentified woman shouted, “That’s
the one that shot him.” The witness testified that the woman shouted
loudly enough for the appellant to hear her, and that the appellant was
the only one standing in the street, and fled even though the officer
told him to stop and fired a warning shot. The Court concluded that these
facts showed the statement met the res gestae requirements.