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Admission of other-acts evidence—harmless error

State v. Andrew J. Wirth, 2012AP208-CR, District 4, 2/21/13; court of appeals decision (not recommended for publication); case activity

Wirth was charged with the shooting deaths of two people outside a bar. He claimed self defense. The trial court allowed evidence that Wirth engaged in a confrontation earlier in the evening at a different bar with someone other than the shooting victims. In a fact-intensive opinion, the court of appeals concludes that if admission of the evidence was error, it was harmless, even in light of defendant’s claim of self defense:

¶30      In sum, the only significant dispute at trial was whether Wirth acted in self-defense. As we have explained, the evidence showing that Wirth operated and handled the weapon in a manner constituting criminal negligence, and not in self-defense, was overwhelming. When we view the other acts evidence of the altercation at the Filling Station Bar in the context of the entire trial, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found Wirth guilty even if the other acts evidence had been excluded. For that reason, we affirm.

Wirth was charged with two counts of first degree intentional homicide but was convicted of two counts of the lesser included offense of homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, so the court’s analysis of the evidence relates to the elements of the lesser included crime.

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