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Prison guard cries over spilled milk; defendant loses IAC claim

State v. Travanti D. Schmidt, 2014AP718-CR, District 4, 9/18/14 (one-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

And we do mean “spilled milk.” A jury convicted Schmidt, an inmate, of disoderly conduct for spilling milk on a prison guard. Defense counsel did not object to the admission of a videotape showing the incident from a side view, some distance away from Schmidt’s cell.  Without the video, there was only the testimony of the guard and Schmidt. The court of appeals held that exclusion of the video wouldn’t have made a difference; the jury would have believed the prison guard anyway.

More specifically, the court of appeals held that Schmidt was not entitled to a Machner hearing because even if counsel should have objected to the admission of the video, and the objection caused the trial court to exclude the video, there was no reasonable probability of a different outcome (presumably, a verdict of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”)

Schmidt complained to the guard about a problem with his milk carton and showed him an open carton. The guard obtained a replacement carton and returned to give it to Schmidt through an opening in his cell door.  Milk supposedly came “flying out” of the door and splashed the officer. Then the officer saw Schmidt making a “throwing motion.”  The officer picked up the carton and saw it open at the top and claims Schmidt threw it at him.

Smith says he was trying to show the guard a problem with his open carton by squeezing it a little bit when milk suddenly went everywhere, including onto the guard. He tried to place the carton on the trap in the door but it slipped off. In short, it was an accident.

Even though the jury watched the video 5 times, the court of appeals felt sure it did not play an important part in the verdict. Slip op. ¶13.  The jury was just “attempt[ing] to see if it was consistent with the officer’s or Schmidt’s testimony.” The one-judge author of this opinion assures the reader: “Having viewed the video myself, I conclude that no reasonable juror could have relied on the video to decide who was more credible.” Id.

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