If a party introduces all or part of a statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part—or any other statement—that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time. The adverse party may do so over a hearsay objection.
Summary and Explanation
Federal Rule of Evidence 106, often referred to as the “Rule of Completeness,” addresses the admissibility of evidence in a way that allows for a more complete and accurate understanding of a statement or writing that has been introduced into evidence.
Rule 106 essentially states that if a party introduces only part of a statement or writing, the opposing party has the right to introduce the remainder of the statement or writing that provides context or clarifies the meaning. This rule aims to prevent unfair or misleading presentations of evidence by ensuring that the jury or the trier of fact gets to see the full picture.
For example, if an attorney presents a witness’s written statement in court that seems to incriminate the defendant, Rule 106 allows the opposing attorney to introduce the rest of the statement that might contain exculpatory or exonerating information. This prevents cherry-picking of evidence and ensures that both sides have a fair opportunity to present the full context of the statement or writing.
In practice, Rule 106 serves the interests of fairness, completeness, and accuracy in the presentation of evidence during legal proceedings. It enables the trier of fact to make a more informed and balanced decision by considering all relevant information, rather than being presented with a selective or biased portrayal of evidence.
(Pub.L. 93-595, § 1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1930; Mar. 2, 1987, eff. Oct. 1, 1987; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)
Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules
The rule is an expression of the rule of completeness. McCormick §56. It is manifested as to depositions in Rule 32(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, of which the proposed rule is substantially a restatement.
The rule is based on two considerations. The first is the misleading impression created by taking matters out of context. The second is the inadequacy of repair work when delayed to a point later in the trial. See McCormick §56; California Evidence Code §356. The rule does not in any way circumscribe the right of the adversary to develop the matter on cross-examination or as part of his own case.
For practical reasons, the rule is limited to writings and recorded statements and does not apply to conversations.
Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1987 Amendment
The amendments are technical. No substantive change is intended.
Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment
The language of Rule 106 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.
Committee Notes on Rules—2023 Amendment
Rule 106 has been amended in two respects:
(1) First, the amendment provides that if the existing fairness standard requires completion, then that completing statement is admissible over a hearsay objection. Courts have been in conflict over whether completing evidence properly required for completion under Rule 106 can be admitted over a hearsay objection. The Committee has determined that the rule of completeness, grounded in fairness, cannot fulfill its function if the party that creates a misimpression about the meaning of a proffered statement can then object on hearsay grounds and exclude a statement that would correct the misimpression. See United States v. Sutton, 801 F.2d 1346, 1368 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (noting that “[a] contrary construction raises the specter of distorted and misleading trials, and creates difficulties for both litigants and the trial court”). For example, assume the defendant in a murder case admits that he owned the murder weapon, but also simultaneously states that he sold it months before the murder. In this circumstance, admitting only the statement of ownership creates a misimpression because it suggests that the defendant implied that he owned the weapon at the time of the crime—when that is not what he said. In this example the prosecution, which has created the situation that makes completion necessary, should not be permitted to invoke the hearsay rule and thereby allow the misleading statement to remain unrebutted. A party that presents a distortion can fairly be said to have forfeited its right to object on hearsay grounds to a statement that would be necessary to correct the misimpression. For similar results see Rules 502(a), 410(b)(1), and 804(b)(6).
The courts that have permitted completion over hearsay objections have not usually specified whether the completing remainder may be used for its truth or only for its non-hearsay value in showing context. Under the amended rule, the use to which a completing statement can be put will depend on the circumstances. In some cases, completion will be sufficient for the proponent of the completing statement if it is admitted to provide context for the initially proffered statement. In such situations, the completing statement is properly admitted over a hearsay objection because it is offered for a non-hearsay purpose. An example would be a completing statement that corrects a misimpression about what a party heard before undertaking a disputed action, where the party’s state of mind is relevant. The completing statement in this example is admitted only to show what the party actually heard, regardless of the underlying truth of the completing statement. But in some cases, a completing statement places an initially proffered statement in context only if the completing statement is true. An example is the defendant in a murder case who admits that he owned the murder weapon, but also simultaneously states that he sold it months before the murder. The statement about selling the weapon corrects a misimpression only if it is offered for its truth. In such cases, Rule 106 operates to allow the completing statement to be offered as proof of a fact.
(2) Second, Rule 106 has been amended to cover all statements, including oral statements that have not been recorded. Most courts have already found unrecorded completing statements to be admissible under either Rule 611(a) or the common-law rule of completeness. This procedure, while reaching the correct result, is cumbersome and creates a trap for the unwary. Most questions of completion arise when a statement is offered in the heat of trial—where neither the parties nor the court should be expected to consider the nuances of Rule 611(a) or the common law in resolving completeness questions. The amendment, as a matter of convenience, covers these questions under one rule. The rule is expanded to now cover all statements, in any form — including statements made through conduct or sign language.
The original committee note cites “practical reasons” for limiting the coverage of the rule to writings and recordings. To the extent that the concern was about disputes over the content or existence of an unrecorded statement, that concern does not justify excluding all unrecorded statements completely from the coverage of the rule. See United States v. Bailey, 2017 WL 5126163, at *7 (D. Md. Nov. 16, 2017) (“A blanket rule of prohibition is unwarranted, and invites abuse. Moreover, if the content of some oral statements are disputed and difficult to prove, others are not—because they have been summarized . . . , or because they were witnessed by enough people to assure that what was actually said can be established with sufficient certainty.”). A party seeking completion with an unrecorded statement would of course need to provide admissible evidence that the statement was made. Otherwise, there would be no showing that the original statement is misleading, and the request for completion should be denied. In some cases, the court may find that the difficulty in proving the completing statement substantially outweighs its probative value—in which case exclusion is possible under Rule 403.
The rule retains the language that completion is made at the time the original portion is introduced. That said, many courts have held that the trial court has discretion to allow completion at a later point. See, e.g., Phoenix Assocs. III v. Stone, 60 F.3d 95, 103 (2d Cir. 1995) (“While the wording of Rule 106 appears to require the adverse party to proffer the associated document or portion contemporaneously with the introduction of the primary document, we have not applied this requirement rigidly.”). Nothing in the amendment is intended to limit the court’s discretion to allow completion at a later point.
The intent of the amendment is to displace the common-law rule of completeness. In Beech Aircraft Corp. v. Rainey, 488 U.S. 153, 171–72 (1988), the Court in dictum referred to Rule 106 as a partial codification of the common-law rule of completeness. There is no other rule of evidence that is interpreted as coexisting with common-law rules of evidence, and the practical problem of a rule of evidence operating with a common-law supplement is apparent—especially when the rule is one, like the rule of completeness, that arises most often during the trial.
The amendment does not give a green light of admissibility to all excised portions of statements. It does not change the basic rule, which applies only to the narrow circumstances in which a party has created a misimpression about the statement, and the adverse party proffers a statement that in fact corrects the misimpression. The mere fact that a statement is probative and contradicts a statement offered by the opponent is not enough to justify completion under Rule 106. So, for example, the mere fact that a defendant denies guilt before later admitting it does not, without more, mandate the admission of his previous denial. See United States v. Williams, 930 F.3d 44 (2d Cir. 2019).