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§ 904.03, Unfair Prejudice – Autopsy Photo

State v. Gregg A. Pfaff, 2004 WI App 31
For Pfaff: Rex Anderegg

Issue/Holding:

¶34. Whether photographs are to be admitted is a matter within the trial court’s discretion. State v. Lindvig, 205 Wis. 2d 100, 108, 555 N.W.2d 197 (Ct. App. 1996). We will not disturb the court’s discretionary decision “unless it is wholly unreasonable or the only purpose of the photographs is to inflame and prejudice the jury.” Id. (citing State v. Hagen, 181 Wis. 2d 934, 946, 512 N.W.2d 180 (Ct. App. 1994)). “Photographs should be admitted if they help the jury gain a better understanding of material facts and should be excluded if they are not `substantially necessary’ to show material facts and will tend to create sympathy or indignation or direct the jury’s attention to improper considerations.” Ellsworth v. Schelbrock, 229 Wis. 2d 542, 559, 600 N.W.2d 247 (Ct. App. 1999) (citing Sage v. State, 87 Wis. 2d 783, 788, 275 N.W.2d 705 (1979)).¶35. Pfaff argues that the evidence was cumulative because he did not dispute Naumann’s identity. However, Lindvig rejected the argument that a defendant’s willingness to stipulate to an element could render photographs inadmissible. Lindvig makes clear that even when a party is willing to stipulate to an element, “[e]vidence is always admissible to prove an element of the charged crime even if the defendant does not dispute it at trial.”Lindvig, 205 Wis. 2d at 108 (citation omitted).

¶37. We conclude that the trial court’s decision to admit an autopsy photograph of Naumann was not wholly unreasonable. We further conclude that the purpose of the photograph was not to inflame or prejudice the jury, and Pfaff concedes that the photo is not “particularly graphic or gory in detail.” The State was entitled to present the evidence as proof of an essential element of the charged crime. We therefore uphold the admission of the autopsy photograph.

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