Thursday, April 20, 2017
If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part — or any other writing or recorded statement — that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time.
There's a debate across the country over whether the rule of completeness is just a rule of timing or also a rule of admissibility. In its recent opinion in State v. Sanchez, 380 P.3d 375 (Utah App. 2016), the Court of Appeals of Utah addressed this debate for the first time.
In Sanchez, James Raphael Sanchez was charged with murdering his girlfriend.
At trial, the State introduced an interview between Sanchez and a police detective through the detective's testimony. The interview was audio-recorded and transcribed. In the interview, Sanchez admitted to assaulting Victim. On cross-examination of the detective, Sanchez attempted to elicit testimony that would explain the reason for the assault—that "he started fighting with [Victim] because he thought she was cheating on him with his brother," that "she admitted it and she kept saying it," that "she wouldn't tell [him] that" she would stop the affair, and that Victim's statement "hurt [his] feelings." The trial court excluded the testimony, stating, "If you're seeking to introduce...hearsay, unless you can give me an exception, it's not coming in." Sanchez argued, among other things, that the court was required to admit the testimony under rule 106 of the Utah Rule of Evidence. The court determined that rule 106 did not require the court to admit the testimony. Sanchez did not testify at trial.
This leads to the classic debate over Rule 106 because Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A) and state counterparts allow a party to introduce statements of a party-opponent but do not allow a party to introduce his own statement, unless some other hearsay exception or exclusion applies. Therefore, the prosecution could admit parts of Sanchez's statement to the detective, but Sanchez couldn't introduce other portions of that statement, unless the rule of completeness applied.
The Court of Appeals of Utah found that it did.* According to the court,
In sum, we believe the purpose and scope of rule 106 extend beyond timing and order of proof. A rule that focuses on fairness "can adequately fulfill its function only by permitting the admission of some otherwise inadmissible evidence when the court finds in fairness that the proffered evidence should be considered contemporaneously."...We therefore conclude that the "fairness principle can override the rule excluding hearsay."..."Even if the [statement] would be subject to a hearsay objection, that does not block its use when it is needed to provide context for a statement already admitted."
So, what does this all mean. Let's break it all down with two examples:
-(1) Will sees a fight at McDonald's and sends two texts to his friend, Fred: (1) "OMG, Dan just shot Vince;" and (2) "OMG, Vince was charging at him with a knife." Both of these text messages would be admissible as present sense impressions and/or excited utterances under Federal Rules of Evidence 803(1)-(2) and state counterparts. So, imagine that the prosecutor seeks to introduce just the first text message during its case-in-chief. Even if the rule of completeness is just a rule of timing, the defense could immediately introduce the second text message, rather than having to wait for the defense case because fairness would require that they both be considered together.
-(2) Will sees a fight at McDonald's and sends one text to his friend, Fred: "OMG, Dan just shot Vince!" Then, several hours later, after Will has calmed down, he sends Fred a second text message to his friend, Fred: "Vince was charging at Dan with a knife." Again, imagine that the prosecutor seeks to introduce just the first text message during its case-in-chief. If the rule of completeness is just a rule of timing, the defense wouldn't be able to introduce the second message at this time or at any time. It would always be inadmissible hearsay. But, if the rule of completeness is a rule of admissibility, the rule would deem the second text message both admissible and admissible right after the introduction of the first text message.
*That said, the court concluded (correctly, in my opinion) that the trial court's error was harmless.