State v. Edwards, ___ N.C. App. ___, 820 S.E.2d 862 (Sept. 18, 2018)

In this case involving convictions for attempted first-degree murder, statutory sex offense with a child by an adult, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, first-degree kidnapping, and taking indecent liberties with a child, although the trial court erred by preventing the defendant from cross-examining the State’s witnesses concerning the defendant’s admission and attempt to help investigators rescue the victim during his post-arrest interrogation, the error was harmless. The case involved the defendant’s abduction of a six-year-old girl and related conduct including binding the child to a tree with a chain around her neck. The defendant asserted that the trial court’s limitation on cross-examination violated his constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial and right to silence. The State elicited testimony from law enforcement officers about the defendant’s pre-arrest statements. It did not however elicit any testimony regarding the post-arrest interrogation of him, and sought to prevent the defendant from introducing any evidence from the State’s witnesses regarding the post-arrest interrogation during cross-examination. According to the State, the pre-arrest interview of the defendant was separate from the post-arrest interrogation that occurred the next day. The trial court agreed with the State and prevented the defendant from questioning the State’s witnesses, including Detective Sorg, regarding the defendant’s post-arrest interrogation. After the State rested, the issue of the defense presenting evidence regarding the post-arrest interrogation arose again, specifically with respect to calling Sorg as a defense witness. According to the State, the testimony would include self-serving statements by the defendant from a completely different interview that constituted hearsay. The State asserted that if the defense wanted to present evidence about what the defendant said during those interviews, he had to take the stand. The trial court agreed and ruled that the defense could not question Sorg on anything related to the post-arrest interrogation. The defendant took the stand and testified about that interrogation.

            The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the cross-examination should have been allowed under Rule 106, to prevent the jury from being misled or deceived by the evidence presented regarding the pre-arrest interview. The purpose of Rule 106’s completeness rule is to ensure that misleading impressions created by taking matters out of context are corrected. Here, there was no nexus between the interview and the post-arrest interrogation that would require evidence of the post-arrest interrogation to explain or add context to the earlier interview. Thus the trial court did not err by concluding that the two events were discrete. Moreover, Rule 106 is limited to writings and recorded statements. Here, the defense did not seek to introduce any such materials; rather, the defense simply wanted to question the State’s witnesses about that interrogation during cross-examination.

            Considering Rule 611, which addresses the proper scope of cross-examination, the court found that the trial court abused its discretion by disallowing the evidence. Rule 611 provides that a witness may be cross-examined on any relevant matter, and here the evidence that the defendant sought to elicit from the State’s witnesses was relevant. However, the court went on to conclude that the trial court’s error was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of guilt.