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Whether an error in the admission of evidence is harmless generally depends upon its materiality in relation to the case as a whole. The erroneous admission of character evidence is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt if its impact is minimal in the context of the entire record. Such error is harmless where there is other properly admitted evidence of conduct demonstrating the particular character trait in question.
The victim was living in appellant's home. The day before the killing, appellant and victim argued over rent money. Two eyewitnesses testified that they saw appellant hit victim on the head several times while the victim was unarmed. The next day, the victim returned to the house to retrieve his belongings. A fight ensued between the appellant and the victim, resulting in the victim’s death. Appellant was charged with murder. Appellant's wife gave testimony that indicated appellant's general propensity to become violent. She further testified about appellant’s gambling habits. Appellant was convicted. Appellant challenged his conviction, arguing that the trial judge erroneously admitted character evidence that was unfairly prejudicial.
The court noted that the appellant’s wife gave testimony that indicated appellant's general propensity to become violent. Although this evidence of appellant's bad character was improperly admitted, the appellate court found any error harmless. Appellant's use of force during his argument with the victim the day before the killing clearly demonstrated appellant's propensity to become violent. Evidence of this conduct, which was properly admitted, revealed the same information about appellant as his wife's testimony. As to testimony regarding appellant's gambling, whatever negative connotation appellant's gambling might have had, it was not mentioned again during the trial and did not imply any propensity on appellant's part to commit the violent crime with which he was charged.