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COA affirms exclusion of evidence re State’s prior unsuccessful TPR at later TPR trial

State v. D.L., 2019AP2331, District 1, 3/10/20; (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

The State petitioned to terminate D.L.’s parental rights to Y.P.-T.  for failure to assume parental responsibility in January 2017 and lost at a jury trial. So when the State filed a new T.P.R. proceeding in October 2018, D.L. moved the circuit court to instruct the jury instructed that he had a substantial relationship with Y.P-T for the first 20 months of her life. The circuit court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed.

D.L. learned he was the the father of Y-P.T. in January 2016 when she was 18 months old.. He immediately started visits with her but they didn’t go well.  A few months the State’s first (and unsuccessful) TPR in January 2017, D.L. was ordered to control his addictions and mental health and demonstrate an ability to supervise and care for Y.P-T before she could be placed with him. He failed those conditions, so the State petitioned to terminate his parental rights again. That’s when D.L. sought to have the jury instructed that he once had a substantial relationship with D.L.

The circuit court held that evidence of the prior failed TPR was not relevant to the current proceeding, per Wis. Stat. §904.03 and Tammy W.-G. v. Jacob T., 2011 WI 30, 333 Wis. 2d 273, 797 N.W.2d 854. Admission of the prior verdict would confuse the jury. Besides the State can never inform juries about prior TPR cases, so the defense shouldn’t get to either. Opinion, ¶19.

The court of appeals reviewed the circuit court’s decision for an erroneous exercise of discretion but found none. The circuit court had examined the relevant facts, applied the correct legal standard, and used a rational process to reach a reasonable decision. Opinion, ¶20.

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