Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Pacquette: Rule of Completeness Requires Reversal

In U.S. v. Pacquette, 13-11736 (Mar. 4, 2014) (unpublished), the Court held that the district court erred in excluding a defendant’s exculpatory statement, because the statement was admissible under the “rule of completeness.” At trial, on cross-examination of government Customs agents, defense counsel sought to elicit the fact that Pacquette, after initially saying that everything in his bag was his, disclaimed ownership of the drugs the agents found in his bag. The district court precluded this questioning, ruling that it was hearsay and an exculpatory statement, admissible only if the defendant testified. After defense counsel in closing statement told the jury that Pacquette had denied that the cocaine was his, the district court instructed the jury to disregard this argument, because there was no evidence to support it. Reversing, the Court held that under Fed. R. Evid. 106 and 611(a), and Circuit precedent, the rule of completeness applied to oral statements. Here, the officers’ testimony was “incomplete,” because it did not include Pacquette’s disclaimer of ownership of the drugs. The error was not harmless, because the prosecutor argued in closing argument that the jury should consider Pacquette’s failure to say “I got duped.” “The district court magnified the error by instructing the jury that ‘there is no evidence . . . [Pacquette] denied . . . knowing the contents of the bag.”