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Alleged evidentiary errors don’t require new TPR trial

Dane County DHS v. Mable K., 2014AP398 & 2014AP399, District 4, 7/10/14 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity: 2014AP398; 2014AP399

Mable K. is not entitled to a new grounds trial based on two alleged evidentiary errors—the admission of evidence about her lack of contact with her children after the period of alleged abandonment, and the admission of evidence of specific instances of her prior untruthful conduct—because there was overwhelming evidence supporting the jury’s verdict.

Mable was alleged to have abandoned her children during a period running from December 2009 through May 2010. (¶¶3-4). There were isolated references to her lack of contact with the children after May, but her trial lawyer didn’t object to the references. That failure was not prejudicial, however, because the evidence and the parties’ arguments focused on the December to May period and there was extensive evidence—including her own testimony—about her lack of contact during the alleged abandonment period. (¶¶15-26).

Also, the court allowed Mable to be questioned about two prior instances of untruthful conduct involving check forgery and credit card fraud. (¶¶7-9). Even if the circuit court erred in allowing these questions under § 906.08(2), the error was harmless. The jury was presented with overwhelming evidence that Mable did not visit or communicate directly with her children during the December-May period and there was extensive additional evidence presented at trial impeaching Mable K.’s credibility. Thus, there is no reasonable possibility that admitting evidence of the specific instances of conduct would have contributed to the jury’s determination regarding grounds. (¶¶27-40).

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