State v. Larry J. Sprosty, 2001 WI App 231, PFR filed
For Sprosty: Jack E. Schairer, SPD, Madison Appellate
Issue: Whether the trial court erred in refusing to qualify a social worker as an expert in this Ch. 980 supervised release proceeding.
Holding: Because the witness had “expertise with respect to treating sex offenders … she was qualified to give her opinion on the ultimate issue.” ¶29. The error, however, was harmless: The witness was allowed to testify to all but the ultimate opinion, and another witness was allowed to give an ultimate opinion in Sprosty’s favor, ¶30.
The social worker’s qualifications are mentioned only in passing, namely that “she provides treatment for sexual offenders and prepared the treatment plan for Sprosty to be implemented upon his release,” ¶11. The harmless error analysis is wrong on its face: “because Sprosty has not demonstrated that there is a reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the circuit court’s decision, we conclude the error was harmless[.],” ¶30. This exactly inverts the burden, which is, instead, that the state show beyond reasonable doubt that the error didn’t contribute to the result.