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Unfair Prejudice, § 904.03 – Flight, “Independent Reason” for, as Ground for Inadmissibility

State v. Pablo G. Quiroz, 2009 WI App 120
For Quiroz: Glen B. Kulkoski

Issue/Holding:

¶21      Quiroz claims that under Miller, 231 Wis. 2d at 574, there is an automatic exception to the trial court’s discretionary ability to admit flight evidence whenever a defendant has an independent reason for flight that, if admitted, would unduly prejudice the defendant. Relying on his interpretation of Miller, Quiroz argues that the evidence of his flight was inadmissible because he proffered an independent reason for flight.

¶27      Our holding in Miller defeats rather than bolsters Quiroz’s argument. Flight evidence is not inadmissible anytime a defendant points to an unrelated crime in rebuttal. Rather, when a defendant points to an unrelated crime to explain flight, the trial court must, as it must with all evidence, determine whether to admit the flight evidence by weighing the risk of unfair prejudice with its probative value. Wis. Stat. § 904.03. As in Miller, the trial court performed the proper balancing test and determined that the independent reason for flight was not unduly prejudicial. It held hearings on the flight motions and the record reflects a rational process in its decision to admit the flight evidence and instruction. In determining that the State could introduce evidence of Quiroz’s flight, it made efforts to minimize the prejudicial effect by also ruling that the details of the other charges, proffered by Quiroz as his independent reason for flight, could “not be gone into.” Thus, during trial, the only references to the other charges were those made by Quiroz stating he fled because he was arrested for “more charges” after he posted bail for the sexual assault and exploitation charges. The record reflects the trial court’s careful rationale. The admission of the flight evidence and instruction was a well-considered and proper exercise of the trial court’s discretion.

The court doubts “whether Quiroz has really set forth an independent reason for fleeing,” ¶22, besides which the evidence of guilt was so “overwhelming” any error re: flight evidence would have been harmless, ¶28.

 

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