Friday, March 1, 2019
Supreme Court of Delaware Finds the Rule of Completeness Allows for the Admission of Otherwise Inadmissible Evidence
Like its federal counterpart, Delaware Rule of Evidence 106 provides that
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 split among states as to whether this "rule of completeness" is simply a rule of timing or also a rule of admissibility. In other words, does it merely regulate when otherwise admissible evidence can be admitted or can it be used to transform otherwise inadmissible evidence into admissible evidence.
As the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Delaware in Thompson v. State, 2019 WL 845674 (De. 2019), makes clear, Delaware's rule of completeness is a rule of admissibility.
In Thompson, Aaron Thompson was charged with murder and related crimes, and Joshua Bey testified against him as a witness for the prosecution. Thereafter,
[o]n cross-examination, Thompson confronted Bey with several statements from his prior statements to the police that were inconsistent with his testimony at trial. A substantial portion of Bey's cross-examination involved Thompson's counsel confronting Bey with several statements he made in the August 14 proffer that were inconsistent with his trial testimony. He also questioned Bey about two discrete points in the September 5 statement that were inconsistent with his trial testimony.
Subsequently, the prosecution successfully argued that the entirety of Bey's September 5th statement was admissible as a prior consistent statement under Delaware Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B).
After he was convicted, Thompson appealed, claiming that the September 5th statement was not admissible as a prior consistent statement. The Supreme Court of Delaware rejected this argument, concluding that
Where, as here, the cross-examiner's goal is to impeach the credibility of the testifying witness by arguing that the witness's whole story is made up and does this by bringing up isolated examples of inconsistencies with a prior statement that are insignificant to the whole story, it is appropriate under Rule 106 for the jury to hear the entire prior statement to properly assess the witness's credibility. Thompson's line of attack was that since Bey could not keep his story straight (or consistent), he must have made the whole thing up. The recorded statement, however, was largely consistent with Bey's trial testimony. Therefore, playing the entire statement countered Thompson's argument that Bey was making everything up.
Finally, the court concluded that "[s]ince we find that Bey's September 5 statement was admissible under Rule 106, we need not consider its admissibility under Rule 801(d)(1)(B)."
Therefore, Delaware Rule of Evidence 106 clearly allows for the admissibility of evidence that is not admissible under any other rule of evidence.