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"Hearsay" evidence is in its own nature inadmissible. That this species of testimony supposes some better testimony which might be adduced in the particular case, is not the sole ground of its exclusion. Its intrinsic weakness, its incompetency to satisfy the mind of the existence of the fact, and the frauds which might be practiced under its cover, combine to support the rule that hearsay evidence is totally inadmissible. To this rule there are some exceptions which are said to be as old as the rule itself. These are cases of pedigree, of prescription, of custom, and in some cases of boundary. There are also matters of general and public history which may be received without that full proof which is necessary for the establishment of a private fact.
The slaves instituted a suit against the masters, claiming their freedom. At trial, a juror was dismissed after being challenged for cause by the masters, while the slaves' exception to another juror after he was sworn was overruled. The slaves offered deposition testimony to establish facts regarding the residence and manner of importation of their ancestor. The testimony was rejected as hearsay. The slaves took exceptions to these rulings. Judgment was rendered for the masters. The slaves challenged the decision.
Did the trial court err in ruling in favor of the masters?
On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the masters. The court refused to establish a new exception to the hearsay rule in order to admit the evidence regarding the slaves' ancestor. There was no legal distinction between the assertion of freedom and any other right that would justify application of a different rule of evidence to the case merely because the eyewitnesses were dead. The evidence was inadmissible. The exception to the juror that the slaves sought to exclude should have been made before the juror was sworn. The trial court properly exercised its discretion in refusing to permit the clearly biased juror to be sworn. He indicated that he detested slavery and in a doubtful case he would have found for the slaves.