Res gestae, a Latin phrase meaning "things done," is a dormant legal term that allowed certain forms of hearsay to be admitted as evidence. Under res gestae, secondhand statements could be admitted into the evidence of a court case if they were made spontaneously as an event occurred. The rationale behind this practice was that spontaneous utterances were free from the potential misinterpretations of other kinds of hearsay.
Beginning in the 1920s, res gestae was increasingly codified to distinguish the secondhand statements that were allowed into the courtroom from those that were explicitly banned. Most modern courts only allow admission for three types of statements: words explaining a physical act, spontaneous admissions, and statements that explain state of mind. Unless a statement specifically falls under one of these three categories, it usually is considered inadmissible.
Some countries, such as Canada, allow secondhand information to be used if a statement creates legal rights. This fourth category would allow spontaneous statements such as, "She's my wife!" to be included in a trial because they establish a legal relationship between the parties. The rationale behind allowing these statements is that they establish a legal relationship that the court must consider to arrive at an accurate verdict.
In some cases, res gestae is interpreted broadly to allow utterances that would not normally be allowed. For example, many child abuse trials liberally use secondhand statements to avoid the trauma of forcing a child to take the stand in open court. Sensitive cases such as these rely on statements that would traditionally be considered hearsay to make the trial run smoothly.
When res gestae statements are to be used in court as a pivotal part of the case, a voir dire hearing is often required. This hearing allows the defense and the prosecution to assess the accuracy of the statement and its overall validity to the trial. Voir dire hearings are especially important in trials where secondhand statements will constitute a large bulk of the evidence, such as in child abuse trials.
A significantly less common use of the term is found in felony murder trials. In these cases, res gestae refers to the beginning-to-end process of the trial. It can also be used to denote secondhand statements, often causing confusion. The confusion between the uses of this legal term in felony murder cases is one of the major reasons why res gestae is rarely used in modern courtroom culture.