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Particular Examples of Misconduct, § 904.04(2) – Recognizance Bond as Documentary Proof of Defendant’s Connection to Place Where Drugs Founds – Criminal History Generally Inadmissible

State v. Ronell E. Harris, 2008 WI 15, affirming unpublished decisionFor Harris: Ralph J. Sczygelskis

Issue/Holding: A document, identified to the jury as “recognizance of bond in a criminal case … by the defendant,” found in the same room as a controlled substance and meant to show his connection to the drug, was inadmissible:

¶82      Criminal History Generally Inadmissible. Ordinarily evidence of a defendant’s criminal history is not admissible because when such evidence is admitted, there can be an “overstrong tendency to believe the defendant guilty of the charge merely because he is a person likely to do such acts” and because of “the confusion of issues which might result from bringing in evidence of other crimes.” [38] Evidence of a defendant’s criminal history may serve as “an invitation to focus on an accused’s character” and to “magnif[y] the risk that jurors will punish the accused for being a bad person regardless of his or her guilt of the crime charged.” [39]

¶86      … We agree with the State, defense counsel, and the circuit court, concluding that the State improperly introduced evidence of the defendant’s criminal history when the State called the jury’s attention to a recognizance bond bearing the defendant’s name and when a State witness referred to the bond as “a court bail bond, some kind of court paperwork for [the defendant]” and then a “recognizance of bond in a criminal case . . . a posting of $1,000 by the defendant.”

The court finds the error to be harmless, ¶¶87-90.


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