EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Incomplete: Court Of Appeals Of North Carolina Rejects Defendant's Broad Reading Of the Rule Of Completeness

In its recent opinion in State v. Hall, 2008 WL 5055724 (N.C.App. 2008), I think that the Court of Appeals of North Carolina correctly rejected the defendant's rule of completeness argument.

In Hall, the Keith Lavoris Hall was convicted of "robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of first-degree murder, both on the basis of malice, premeditation, and deliberation, as well as under the felony murder rule, and two counts of first-degree murder, only under the felony murder rule."

And some of the evidence used to convict him were photocopied portions of letters Hall wrote to his girlfriend, Crystal Goins, while he was in custody.  For instance, in one of the letters read into evidence at trial, Hall wrote to Goins,

     "I have two out-of-town lawyers.... They told me that they didn't have no evidence on me, only evidence they have is your statements. I never wrote a statement. You don't-didn't suppose to write-you didn't suppose to write one without your lawyer being there. Your lawyer knows that, so he should be able to get them destroyed if you tell them you[ ] was high or [f---ed] up on pills or something. My lawyer also told me you was going to testify against me on trial. Don't do that. Let me ride my own. I'm a thug, a G-unit soldier, and you is still part of my team. Crystal, you know I love you."

So, why were only portions of these letters introduced at trial?  Well, apparently, only portions of these letters were photocopied before they were mailed to Goins.  And their admission partially prompted Hall's appeal.

According to Hall, North Carolina Rule of Evidence 106, North Carolina's rule of completeness, "required the State to present all of the letters that defendant [he] to Goins, not just the portion of the letters that had been photocopied before the letters were mailed."  According to Rule 106,

     "When a writing or recorded statement or part thereof is introduced by a party, an adverse party may require him at that time to introduce any other part or any other writing or recorded statement which ought in fairness to be considered contemporaneously with it."

So, why did the Court of Appeals of North Carolina reject Hall's argument.  Well, Hall did not present any evidence that the excluded portions of the letters ought in fairness be considered contemporaneously with the admitted portions and instead argued that he could not make such an offer of proof because he did not have access to the letters.  In essence, then, Hall asked the court "to adopt a per se rule of exclusion in situations where only portions of a written or recorded statement are available." 

The court rejected this invitation, concluding that there was

     "no evidence that the excluded portions of defendants' letters to Goins have been destroyed. Given that defendant wrote the letters at issue, he was in the best position to know whether the excluded parts of the letters would have been either explanatory or relevant. To the extent that they would have aided in his defense, defendant had a duty to obtain those letters from Goins during discovery and contemporaneously seek to introduce the excluded portions at trial." 

This seems like the correct conclusion to me because it was Hall himself who wrote the letters.  I wonder, though, how the court would have ruled if it were someone else who wrote the letters.



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