Law School Case Brief
State v. Denton - 768 N.W.2d 250, 2009 WI App 78, 319 Wis. 2d 718, 2009 Wisc. App. LEXIS 363
The decision to admit or exclude demonstrative evidence is committed to a trial court's discretion. Demonstrative evidence is used simply to lend clarity and interest to oral testimony. As long as the trial court demonstrates a reasonable basis for its determination, an appellate court must defer to the trial court's ruling. In exercising its discretion, the trial court must determine whether the demonstrative evidence is relevant, and whether its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Defendants were convicted of attempted kidnapping, attempted false imprisonment, and party to the crime of attempted armed robbery. Defendants appealed orders of the Circuit Court for Walworth County, Wisconsin, denying their motions for postconviction relief. They challenged (1) the trial court's admission of a computer generated animation, (2) the propriety of a kidnapping charge in addition to a robbery charge, and (3) the sufficiency of the evidence to support their convictions.
Did the trial court err in admitting a computer-generated exhibit created and presented by a police officer who was not an expert, and who possessed no firsthand knowledge of the facts depicted in the animation which purportedly illustrated the State's key witnesses' combined testimony of "what people did" during the alleged crime?
The Court held that concluded that the trial court erroneously exercised its discretion when it admitted a computer-generated exhibit created and presented by a police officer who was not an expert, and who possessed no firsthand knowledge of the facts depicted in the animation which purportedly illustrated the State's key witnesses' combined testimony of "what people did" during the alleged crime. The animation had little probative value as a demonstrative exhibit, presented a very real danger of confusing and misleading the jury, and was unduly prejudicial to defendants. The State failed to carry its burden of proving that the trial court's error was harmless. The court concluded, contrary to defendants' contentions, that the State was permitted to charge both attempted kidnapping and attempted armed robbery. Wisconsin law recognized that a defendant could be prosecuted for kidnapping even when the kidnapping was incidental to another charged crime.
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