CRIMINAL LAW: EVIDENCE: HEARSAY: RULE OF COMPLETENESS: UNDER RULE OF COMPLETENESS, TRIAL COURT ERRED BY ADMITTING ONLY DEFENDANT’S INCULPATORY STATEMENT TO PARAMEDIC AND EXCLUDING EXCULPATORY STATEMENT ALTHOUGH IT WAS SELF-SERVING HEARSAY: WHEN THE STATE OPENS THE DOOR, OTHERWISE INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE MAY BE INTRODUCED TO AVOID MISLEADING THE JURY

Newton v. State, ___ So. 3d ___, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D761 (Fla. 5th DCA March 27, 2015)

The defendant’s girlfriend died when his truck rolled over after they left a bar. It was undisputed that the defendant was intoxicated, but he contended that his girlfriend was the driver. At trial, the State called a paramedic, who testified that the defendant said that he was drunk, but the trial court excluded, as self-serving hearsay, the defendant’s statement that he was not driving. On appeal, the State confessed error in excluding the exculpatory statement. The appellate court agreed based on the rule of completeness. Although the defendant’s exculpatory statement did constitute self-serving hearsay, the State opened the door by introducing half of the defendant’s statement to the paramedic. “[W]hen the State opens the door, the defense can introduce otherwise inadmissible evidence to prevent the jury from being misled.” Based on the other evidence in the case, however, the court held that the exclusion of the defendant’s exculpatory statement to the paramedic was harmless error. Judges Lawson and Berger concurred in a per curiam decision. Judge Cohen dissented from the determination of harmless error.

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