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§ 904.04, Misconduct Evidence – Appellate Review – Inadequate Trial Court Reasoning on Admissibility – Remedy

State v. John P. Hunt, 2003 WI 81, reversing unpublished order of court of appeals
For Hunt: Rex R. Anderegg


¶43. The State maintains that the court of appeals erred in interpreting Sullivan. We agree. Sullivan does not state, as the decision of the court of appeals suggests, that in situations where the circuit court fails to set forth a detailed analysis for admitting or excluding other-acts evidence, the reviewing court should summarily reverse all counts. Here the circuit court did explain its reasons for the admission of other-acts evidence, but it could have provided a more detailed Sullivan analysis for the decisions made.¶44. Rather, Sullivan requires that the circuit court “articulate its reasoning for admitting or excluding the evidence, applying the facts of the case to the analytical framework.” Sullivan, 216 Wis. 2d at 774. A circuit court’s failure to delineate, with sufficient detail, the factors that influenced its decision in admitting other-acts evidence would seem to be contrary to the requirements we set forth in Sullivan. That case declared that ordinarily the appropriate recourse for the court of appeals should be to review the record independently, to determine the existence of a reasonable basis for the circuit court’s discretionary decision. As noted in Sullivan:

A circuit court’s failure to delineate factors that influenced its decision constitutes an erroneous exercise of discretion. When a circuit court fails to set forth its reasoning, appellate courts independently review the record to determine whether it provides a basis for the circuit court’s exercise of discretion.

Id. at 781 (citations omitted).

Also see, State v. James E. Gray, 225 Wis.2d 39, 590 N.W.2d 918 (1999) (circuit court provided no reasoning for its conclusion, and the supreme court therefore independently reviews record to determine whether “it provided a basis for the circuit court’s exercise of discretion in admitting the other acts evidence”).

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