Present Sense Impression

The “present sense impression” exception to the hearsay rule allows into evidence an out-of-court statement that describes or explains an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event/condition or immediately thereafter.  A present sense impression differs from an excited utterance in that a shocking or startling event need not cause it, and the statement must describe what is perceived rather than reacting to it.  See Walker v. United States, 630 A.2d. 658, 666 (D.C. 1993); Burgess v. United States, 608 A.2d 733, 739 (D.C. 1992).

According to McCormick on Evidence § 271, we can assume the reliability of such statements for three reasons.  First, because the statement describes events at or near the time they are happening, there should not be any problems caused by the loss of the declarant’s memory.  Second, because the statement must have been made contemporaneously with the observation, there should be little or no time for calculated misstatement.  Finally, the statement will usually have been made to a third person (the witness who subsequently testifies to it) who was also present at the time and who presumably made the the same observation.  This will serve as a check on the accuracy of the observation. 

The exception was formally recognized in D.C. by the D.C. Court of Appeals in Hallums v. United States, 841 A.2d 1270 (D.C. 2004). The exception was defined to include “statements describing or explaining events which the declarant is observing at the time he or she makes the declaration or immediately thereafter.”  Id.at 1276.  In distinguishing between excited utterances and present sense impressions, it explained that the “time within which an excited utterance may be made is measured by the duration of the stress, while present sense impressions may be made only while the declarant is actually perceiving the event, or immediately thereafter – a more circumscribed time period than that permitted for excited utterances.” 

In Sims v. United States, ___ A.3d ___ (D.C. 2019), the D.C. Court of Appeals confirmed that, in addition to contemporaneity and spontaneity, the “trial court must be assured that the declarant of the hearsay statement personally perceived the event described.”