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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm Incomplete: Second Circuit Finds Exculpatory Statement To Police Inadmissible Under Rule Of Completeness

Federal Rule of Evidence 106, the rule of completeness, provides that

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

So, if the prosecution introduces part of a defendant's post-arrest statement that incriminates him, does fairness require the court to admit another part of the statement that (arguably) exonerates him? According to the recent opinion of the Second Circuit in United States v. Gonzalez, 2010 WL 4342192 (2nd Cir. 2010), the answer is "no," at least when the exculpatory portion of the statement neither explains nor is relevant to the admitted portion.

In Gonzalez, Pedro Gonzales and David Gonzales (I'm not sure why the case is titled United States v. Gonzalez) were convicted in connection with a narcotics conspiracy, and at least David was convicted of murder in relation to a drug conspiracy). After David was arrested, he made a post-arrest statement that Soto, the victim, robbed drug dealers. The prosecution used this statement to tie Soto's murder to the drug conspiracy in which the Gonzales brothers allegedly participated. The district court, however, precluded David from presenting another part of his post-arrest statement in which he said that Pedro kept him out of the drug business to protect him.

After he was convicted, David appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the district court should have deemed this other part of his statement admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 106. The Second Circuit, however, rejected this argument, concluding that

The rule of completeness permits a defendant to introduce the remainder of a statement not otherwise admissible if it is "necessary to explain the admitted portion, to place the admitted portion in context, to avoid misleading the jury, or to ensure fair and impartial understanding of the admitted portion."...

The admitted portion of David's statement triggers none of these concerns. Whether Soto was known to rob drug dealers is an entirely separate issue from whether Pedro sought to minimize David's role in the conspiracy to protect him; David's comments about each issue were elicited by separate questions of the investigator. The completeness doctrine does not "require introduction of portions of a statement that are neither explanatory of nor relevant to the admitted passages."...David's self-serving exculpatory statement would be inadmissible hearsay even had he been tried alone; the rule of completeness is not a mechanism to bypass hearsay rules for any self-serving testimony. It was within the district court's discretion to conclude that the admitted portion of David's statements did not distort the meaning of the full statement or exclude information that was substantially exculpatory....

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/11/106-us-v-gonzalezslip-copy-2010-wl-4342192ca2-ny2010.html

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