The rule of completeness is an important rule that can offer protection against the misuse of a recorded statement you make to the police in a Miami criminal case. However, this rule has its limits. In a recent Florida Supreme Court case, the Court considered the rule of completeness, as well as the evidence rule that permits impeachment of hearsay declarants.
At issue was whether section 90.108(1) (the rule of completeness) allows a defendant to require the government to put into evidence an entire video recording of his statement to the cops where the government questioned a detective about the defendant’s inculpatory statements without putting the recording into the record. Also at issue was whether the government could impeach a defendant under section 90.806(1), which permitted an attack on a hearsay declarant’s credibility.
The case arose when a 68-year-old retired man took a 27-year-old man home with him from the beach. When the victim didn’t arrive at his friend’s house for dinner as planned, the friend went to the victim’s house where he found the victim lying facedown inside. Witnesses told a detective they’d seen the victim eating with someone younger earlier that day. The medical examiner decided that the victim had the kinds of injuries that were consistent with being choked and decided it was likely that he’d been killed by force. Other evidence, including video surveillance footage from stores, showed that the defendant had used the victim’s credit card.
When the detective located the defendant, he was taken into custody. The victim’s cards and keys and laptop were found with him. He provided a Mirandized statement to the detective. At trial, neither of the parties put the video recording of this statement into evidence. Rather, the detective testified that the defendant told him that the victim took him home to pay him for sex and that the victim had a wrestling fetish and wanted to be put in a headlock. They did this upstairs and then downstairs, but the victim collapsed without tapping out.
The defendant asked the court to make the government put in the entire recorded statement under the best evidence rule and rule of completeness. The court denied the request. The government argued that the defendant could put the video in during his portion of the case, but instead of doing that the defense attorney cross-examined the detective about parts of the statement that supported the defense that the death was accidental. The jury was told about the defendant’s prior convictions, both for felonies and crimes involving dishonesty.
The defendant argued on appeal that section 90.108(1) rule of completeness applied and that it was an error for the lower court to let the government impeach his credibility with prior felony convictions. These arguments were rejected.
The Florida Supreme Court explained that under the rule of completeness an opponent who has had part of his utterance put in against him can complement it by putting in the rest of the utterance in order to give the court a complete understanding of the utterance’s tenor and effect. The purpose of this rule at common law was to make sure the court wasn’t misled due to decontextualization of statements and to avoid the risk that a decontextualized statement could generate prejudice that it would be impossible to repair through a later presentation of added materials. The added parts of the statement had to be relevant to an issue in the case and had to be needed in order to explain the decontextualized evidence.
The Court found that the statutory rule of completeness was inapplicable because the State had never brought in any part of the recording into evidence. Instead, the government had directly examined the detective about the conversation. The Court approved the appellate court’s determination that section 90.108(1) won’t apply where a recording hasn’t been put in evidence.
The Court explained that if a hearsay statement has been brought into evidence, the declarant’s credibility can be challenged. It reasoned that simply because the government opened the door to introducing exculpatory hearsay statements did not mean that the impeachment of hearsay declarants was no longer permitted.