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Discretion of trial court — evidentiary decisions; mistrial motions

State v. Desmond Dejuan Laster, 2012AP1739-CR, District 1, 4/2/13; court of appeals decision (not recommended for publication); case activity

The trial court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in making two evidentiary rulings or in denying Laster’s  motion for a mistrial.

On the first evidentiary ruling, the court of appeals holds the trial court properly exercised its discretion in allowing the prosecutor to ask Hunt, a defense witness, about child abuse she had committed at her day-care center. The questions “established circumstantial evidence of a relationship between Hunt and Laster that was relevant to whether Hunt would fabricate an alibi to help Laster.” (¶14).

The second evidentiary ruling allowed the State to play a jail-recorded phone conversation where Laster called his mother various derogatory names. The court assumed without deciding that the trial court should have sustained the objection to this evidence, but concluded any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence against Laster–which included testimony against him by an accomplice, his fingerprints on the murder weapon, and uncertain alibi witnesses–was strong. (¶16).

Finally, the trial court did not erroneously deny Laster’s request for a mistrial after the prosecutor asked Hunt about Laster’s lawyer “leading” Hunt through her testimony and played parts of the recorded jail phone conversations that discussed the lawyer’s representation:

¶19      The Record here supports the trial court’s decision to deny the request for a mistrial.  The trial court determined any error could be corrected with a curative instruction.  Both parties agreed and worked together to come up with the language of the instruction.  The instruction was read to the jury.  We presume the jury followed the curative instruction.  See State v. Searcy, 2006 WI App 8, ¶59, 288 Wis. 2d 804, 841, 709 N.W.2d 497, 514.  Laster has not shown us any reason to overturn the trial court’s exercise of discretion.

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