The Rule Of Completeness And Irrelevant Evidence

In allowing the government to introduce a redacted version of the defendant’s statement about the offense, the rule of completeness did not allow the defendant to admit the entire statement as the redactions were irrelevant, in United States v. Dotson, _ F.3d _ (6th Cir. April 22, 2013) (No. 12-5662)

When a party seeks to admit a statement against the opposing party, there are limits to the ability of the opposing party to compel the admission as well of the parts that were redacted or simply excluded. See, e.g., A Party Wishing To Offer Its Own Exculpatory Statements Must Testify. The Sixth Circuit recently considered the admissibility of redactions under the rule of completeness under FRE 106, providing another example of the recent use of the rule .

In the case, defendant was prosecuted for sexual exploitation of a minor, and possession of child pornography. The government moved to admit a redacted statement he provided after his arrest. The defendant sought to admit the statement in its entirety. The statement admitted the defendant’s role in the crime. The redacted portions stated that the defendant “had a rough upbringing and had been sexually abused as a child; that he considered his girlfriend to be a ‘blessing’ and had intended to marry her prior to encountering financial difficulties; and his concern that the victim knew he was exploiting her.” The trial court agreed with the government, excluding the redacted portions on relevancy grounds and noting that the statement could be considered at sentencing. Following his conviction, the defendant appealed the exclusion of the entire statement.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed. First, the redacted statement was probative of whether the defendant committed the charged offenses. The redacted portions, in contrast, “did not make any fact of consequence related to these statutory offenses more or less probable than it would have been without them.” Dotson, _ F.3d at _. As the circuit explained:

[T]he fact that [defendant] Dotson had a troubled upbringing, cared for his girlfriend, and was concerned that the victim knew she was being exploited did not in any way inform his admission that he photographed the victim, made videos of her, and downloaded sexually explicit images of other children from the Internet.
Dotson, _ F.3d at _.

The Sixth Circuit noted the following cases in support:

  • United States v. Lopez-Medina, 596 F.3d 716, 735 (10th Cir. 2010) ("The rule of completeness . . . does not necessarily require admission of [an entire statement, writing or recording.] Rather, only those portions which are relevant to an issue in the case and necessary to clarify or explain the portion already received need to be admitted.") (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted))
  • United States v. Haddad, 10 F.3d 1252, 1258-59 (7th Cir. 1993) (stating that “the portions of the statement that the proponent seeks to admit must, of course, be relevant to an issue in the case”)
  • United States v. Dorrell, 758 F.2d 427, 434 (9th Cir. 1985) (observing that because the application of the rule of completeness is “a matter for the trial judge’s discretion” that he or she “may exclude portions of written statements offered into evidence that are irrelevant”).
  • See also United States v. Crosgrove, 637 F.3d 646, 661 (6th Cir. 2011) (“[t]his circuit has stated . . . that the [rule of completeness] does not make inadmissible evidence admissible”) (internal quotation marks omitted)
The Dotson case shows the limits of the rule of completeness under FRE 106. While other bases to exclude portions of redacted statements may be asserted (such as on hearsay grounds), the statements must also satisfy the relevancy standard. See also Excluding FRE 106 Complete Statement Evidence Which Violates FRE 803 Hearsay Exclusions.


Photo Description: Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cincinnati, OH. Learn more about the courthouse which was named after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who served for twenty-three years on the Court.


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Federal Rules of Evidence