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Confrontation – Limits on Cross-Examination

State v. Olu A. Rhodes, No. 2009AP25, District I, 7/7/10; reversed, 2011 WI 73

court of appeals decision (3-judge; not recommended for publication), reversed, 2011 WI 73; for Rhodes: John J. Grau; BiC; Resp.; Reply

¶10      A defendant’s “right to confront and to cross-examine is not absolute[,]” however, and “‘trial judges retain wide latitude … to impose reasonable limits.’” Id., 2006 WI App 48, ¶10, 290 Wis. 2d at 244–245, 712 N.W.2d at 404–405 (quoted source omitted). Here, although we acknowledge the trial court’s “wide latitude,” Rhodes’s constitutional right to cross-examine was cut off too soon. As we have seen, the State emphasized the defendant’s motive to avenge his sister’s beating in its opening, during the testimony, and in its closing. The argument was that when Rhodes found out Davis had his sister beaten, he “hunted Davis down” and killed him. The trial court truncated Olu A. Rhodes’s lack-of-motive defense when it stopped him from proving he did not react violently when Davis had earlier hurt his sister. Although, as the State argues, the jury could have concluded that the beating that the State contends gave Olu A. Rhodes the motive to kill Davis in this case was the last straw and that the earlier incidents contributed to what the State asserted was Olu A. Rhodes’s and Saleem’s rage, the jury could have also reached the conclusion advanced by Olu A. Rhodes’s lawyer. This was, therefore, a matter that the jury had to resolve, and it needed to have a full picture of the dynamics that roiled the relationships in this case. By cutting off the cross-examination of Nari Rhodes when Olu A. Rhodes’s lawyer was trying to rebut the State’s motive theory, the trial court deprived Olu A. Rhodes of his constitutional right to a fair trial.[1] Accordingly, we reverse.

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