Is a receipt hearsay?

Jamison KoehlerEvidence

Depending on the purpose for which the receipt is being offered, a receipt could be hearsay. If so, it could only be admitted into evidence through an exception to the prohibition against hearsay evidence.

Hearsay is an out-of-court declaration that is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  Hearsay can be oral or written.  It can also be behavioral (for example, pointing).  Any evidence that does not satisfy all three conditions – out-of-court, assertion, offered for the truth – is not hearsay. 

A receipt is unquestionably an out-of-court declaration. Whether it constitutes hearsay would  depend on the purpose for which it is being offered. For example, using a receipt to prove the value of an item at issue in a shoplifting case would be to assert that value as the truth.  This would be hearsay.  It would also be hearsay if the proponent of the evidence were using the receipt to show that payment had been made.  This was the situation inUnited States v. Watkins, 519 F.2d 294, 296 (D.C. Cir. 1975) in which the government introduced three receipts to prove that the defendant had paid rent on the apartment at issue:  “it is a matter of hornbook law that receipts are hearsay as independent evidence of the making of payment.” 

At the same time, other uses of the receipt might not constitute hearsay.  It would not be hearsay, for example, if the proponent of the evidence offered the receipt to prove that the person whose identifying information was on the receipt lived in the room in which the receipt was found. In this case, the proponent of the evidence would not be offering any information contained on the receipt – price, date, etc. – as true.  Instead, the receipt would serve as circumstantial evidence of ownership.