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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Complete Me: Court Of Appeals Of Hawai'i Finds No Confrontation Clause Problem With Rule Of Completeness

In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), the Supreme Court found that that the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution is violated when hearsay is "testimonial," admitted against a criminal defendant, and the hearsay declarant does not testify at the defendant's trial, unless (1) the declarant was unavailable for trial, and (2) the defendant was previously able to cross-examine the declarant. In other words, the Confrontation Clause is violated when testimony or testimonial hearsay is admitted against a defendant and he is not given the chance to cross-examine the declarant.

Meanwhile, like its federal counterpartHawai'i 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 party 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, let's say that a criminal defendant admits part of a testimonial statement by a nontestifying declarant under an exception to the rule against hearsay and the prosecution then seeks to other parts of that testimonial statement under the rule of completeness. Can the prosecution do so consistent with the Confrontation Clause? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Hawai'i in State v. Brooks, 2011 WL 5029439 (Hawai'i App. 2011), the answer is "yes."

In Brooks, Ray Brooks and Sistine Rangamar were charged with the murder, kidnapping, and robbery of Ted Arifuku. Shortly before his arrest, Rangamar gave a statement to the police in which he admitted that he had assaulted, restrained, and robbed Arifuku but also asserted that his actions had been pursuant to a plan devised by Brooks and implicated Brooks in Arikufu's murderr. Rangamar thereafter committed suicide before trial.

Brooks then

filed a pre-trial motion in limine, seeking authorization to introduce at trial selected portions of Rangamar's statement that incriminated Rangamar. Brooks sought to introduce these self-incriminating portions of Rangamar's statement to bolster his claim that Rangamar was solely responsible for the offenses committed against Aikufu against Arifuku.

The State countered

that if Brooks was allowed to introduce the self-incriminating portions of Rangamar's statement, then the State should be allowed to introduce other portions of the statement that incriminated Brooks, pursuant to the "rule of completeness"....Brooks countered that the self-incriminating portions of Rangamar's statement were admissible as statements against penal interest...but that the admission of the portions of Rangamar's statement that incriminated Brooks would violate Brooks's constitutional right of confrontation under Crawford v. Washington.

The Circuit Court ultimately concluded

that the self-incriminating portions of Rangamar's statement that Brooks sought to introduce, when taken in isolation, were "likely to mislead the jury and to distort the content and context of Rangamar's entire statement." The Circuit Court also concluded that "Crawford does not bar the introduction of evidence required under HRE Rule 106."

At trial, Brooks introduced parts of Rangmar's statement, and the prosecution admitted the other parts of Rangmar's statement, with Brooks eventually being convicted of manslaughter, kidnapping, and robbery. After he was convicted, Brooks appealed, claiming that the CIrcuit Court's evidentiary ruling was erroneous.

The Court of Appeals of Hawai'i found no error, concluding that

Crawford did not address the rule-of-completeness situation presented by this case. In Crawfordit was the prosecution that, in the first instance, introduced the testimonial hearsay statement....Here, it is Brooks that introduced selected portions of Rangamar's testimonial hearsay statement and then invoked Crawford in an attempt to prevent the State from placing Rangamar's statement in context and presenting an accurate picture of Rangamar's statement to avoid misleading the jury.

The right of confrontation is not absolute, and we conclude that it cannot be used to distort and subvert the truth-seeking function of the criminal trial process by authorizing the admission of evidence in a manner that would mislead the jury....Brooks sought to introduce selected portions of Rangamar's statement to support his claim that Rangamar acted alone and was solely responsible for the crimes committed against Arifuku. However, permitting Brooks to use Rangamar's statement in this fashion would have misled the jury since Rangamar's statement also asserted that Rangamar acted pursuant to a plan devised by Brooks and implicated Brooks in Arifuku's murder. The Circuit Court properly ruled that if Brooks decided to introduce selected portions of Rangamar's statement, the State would be entitled to introduce other portions of the statement necessary to prevent the jury from being misled.

The court then found support for its conclusion, noting that

It appears that the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions that have addressed the issue presented in this appeal have held that Crawford does not preclude the application of the rule of completeness when a defendant selectively introduces portions of a testimonial hearsay statement.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/10/hi-106-cc-state-v-brooks-p3d-2011-wl-5029439hawaii-app2011.html

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