State v. Muckerheide, No. 2005AP81-CR.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtN. Patrick Crooks
Citation2007 WI 5,725 N.W.2d 930
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Steven P. MUCKERHEIDE, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
Decision Date17 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 2005AP81-CR.

Page 930

725 N.W.2d 930
2007 WI 5
STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Steven P. MUCKERHEIDE, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
No. 2005AP81-CR.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued October 31, 2006.
Decided January 17, 2007.

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For the plaintiff-appellant-petitioner there were briefs by Mark S. Rosen and Rosen and Holzman, Ltd., Waukesha, and oral argument by Mark S. Rosen.

For the plaintiff-respondent the cause was argued by Sally L. Wellman, assistant attorney general, with whom on the brief was Peggy A. Lautenschlager, attorney general.

¶ 1 N. PATRICK CROOKS, J.


This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals affirming a judgment of the Circuit Court for Milwaukee County, Judge Mary Kuhnmuench, convicting Steven P. Muckerheide (Muckerheide) of homicide by use of a motor vehicle while having a prohibited blood alcohol concentration, contrary to Wis. Stat. §§ 940.09(1)(b) and (1c)(b)(2002-04).1 This case involves the admissibility of evidence of the victim's prior acts (other acts evidence), pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2).

¶ 2 In circuit court, Muckerheide offered a defense under Wis. Stat. § 940.09(2)(a),2 claiming that the victim, Michael Braun (Braun), would have been killed even if Muckerheide had been exercising due care and had not been under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Muckerheide sought

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to prove that Braun had grabbed the steering wheel just prior to the accident, and that the accident had occurred when Muckerheide was trying to steer the vehicle to counteract Braun's pulling on the wheel.

¶ 3 The other acts evidence in question was the testimony of Braun's father. In support of Muckerheide's defense under Wis. Stat. § 940.09(2)(a), Muckerheide wished to offer the testimony of Braun's father that Braun had, on prior occasions, gestured as if to grab the steering wheel of his father's vehicle and, on one occasion, had actually grabbed the wheel. The circuit court held that such other acts evidence was inadmissible, and the court of appeals affirmed that ruling and the circuit court's judgment of conviction.

¶ 4 Muckerheide presents three issues for review. The first issue is whether the court of appeals erred when it affirmed the circuit court's decision that the other acts evidence offered by Muckerheide was inadmissible. The second issue is whether the court of appeals erred when it decided not to apply case law from another jurisdiction. The third issue is whether Muckerheide's constitutional right to present a defense was violated.

¶ 5 We hold that the court of appeals was not in error in affirming the circuit court's decision not to admit the testimony of Braun's father offered by Muckerheide. We hold that such testimony was inadmissible. Muckerheide's argument was to the effect that, since Braun had allegedly grabbed the steering wheel on one occasion in his father's vehicle, he must have grabbed the steering wheel from Muckerheide on the occasion of the accident. Such testimony is prohibited under Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2).

¶ 6 Under the analytical framework set forth in State v. Sullivan, 216 Wis.2d 768, 771-72, 576 N.W.2d 30 (1998), such other acts evidence was inadmissible, since it lacked relevance. The court of appeals therefore properly upheld the circuit court's decision to bar the admission of the other acts evidence from Braun's father, although the court allowed testimony from Muckerheide himself that Braun had grabbed the steering wheel and, thus, caused the accident.

¶ 7 We further hold that the court of appeals did not err when it decided not to apply case law from another jurisdiction, the State of Washington. Although a Wisconsin court may consider case law from such other jurisdictions, obviously such case law is not binding precedent in Wisconsin, and a Wisconsin court is not required to follow it. Beecher v. LIRC, 2003 WI App 100, ¶ 16 n. 3, 264 Wis.2d 394, 663 N.W.2d 316.

¶ 8 Finally, we hold that Muckerheide's constitutional right to present a defense was not violated by the exclusion of the testimony from Braun's father. For these reasons, the decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.

I

¶ 9 On July 17, 2003, Muckerheide was driving a vehicle on the way to a tavern, and Braun was riding in the front passenger seat. On the way to the tavern, the front passenger side of Muckerheide's vehicle hit a parked construction trailer, and Braun was killed in the accident. Muckerheide testified at trial that he had been speeding, and also that he had been drinking beer and had used cocaine prior to the accident. Tests taken after the accident revealed that Muckerheide's blood alcohol concentration was .179. Muckerheide testified at trial that Braun also had been drinking and using cocaine that day.

¶ 10 Muckerheide was charged with homicide by use of a motor vehicle while

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operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration, contrary to Wis. Stat. §§ 940.09(1)(b) and (1c)(b).3 Muckerheide offered a defense under Wis. Stat. § 940.09(2)(a) and, in support of his defense, filed a motion before trial to admit the testimony of Braun's father. Braun's father was to testify that Braun was a nervous passenger who had, on several prior occasions, gestured toward the steering wheel of his father's vehicle. Braun also allegedly had grabbed the steering wheel of his father's vehicle on one occasion the previous year, when he perceived that his father's vehicle was coming too close to a safety island.

¶ 11 Muckerheide argued that the testimony of Braun's father was admissible as evidence of habit pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 904.06, and as permissible evidence of other acts pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 904.04. The State of Wisconsin (State) objected to the testimony of Braun's father, arguing that the offered evidence was not sufficiently similar to the crash involving Muckerheide. The State asserted that Muckerheide never alleged that he had lost control of the vehicle while trying to prevent Braun from grabbing the steering wheel. The State further argued that the incident in which Braun allegedly grabbed the steering wheel of his father's vehicle was inadmissible propensity evidence.

¶ 12 The circuit court denied Muckerheide's motion, holding that the testimony of Braun's father was inadmissible propensity evidence under Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2), offered solely for the purpose of proving that Braun had a tendency to grab steering wheels, and that he had acted in conformity therewith when Muckerheide's vehicle crashed.

¶ 13 At trial, Muckerheide testified that Braun grabbed the steering wheel just prior to the crash. Muckerheide stated that he was trying to steer the vehicle to counteract Braun's pulling on the wheel, when the vehicle struck the construction trailer. According to Muckerheide's testimony, only two or three seconds passed between the time when Braun grabbed the steering wheel and when the impact with the construction trailer occurred.

¶ 14 The circuit court instructed the jury on Muckerheide's intervening cause defense under Wis. Stat. § 940.09(2), as Muckerheide requested. The jury found Muckerheide guilty, and the circuit court sentenced Muckerheide to eight years of initial confinement, followed by twelve years of extended supervision. Muckerheide appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in its decision to deny the admission of the testimony of Braun's father.

¶ 15 The court of appeals rejected Muckerheide's argument and affirmed the decision of the circuit court. The court of appeals stated that the admission of evidence is a matter within the sound discretion of a circuit court. The court of appeals further stated that, in order for other acts evidence to be admissible, it must be probative of some proposition other than the proposition that, because the person did prior act X, he or she is of such a character to have committed present act Y. State v. Johnson, 184 Wis.2d 324, 336-37, 516 N.W.2d 463 (Ct. App.1994). The court noted that other acts evidence must be evaluated for relevancy,

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and a relevancy determination requires an assessment of probative value. State v. Gray, 225 Wis.2d 39, 49, 590 N.W.2d 918 (1999); Sullivan, 216 Wis.2d at 786, 576 N.W.2d 30. The court of appeals, relying on Sullivan, 216 Wis.2d at 787, 576 N.W.2d 30, stated that the greater the similarity, complexity, and distinctiveness of the two events, the stronger is the case for admissibility of other acts evidence. The court did not apply a Washington case, State v. Young, 48 Wash.App. 406, 739 P.2d 1170 (1987), as requested by Muckerheide, and instead stated that the court was following Wisconsin law.

¶ 16 Although Muckerheide argued that Braun's testimony was offered to show identity, control, absence of mistake, and modus operandi, the court of appeals concluded that Braun's testimony was inadmissible propensity evidence. The court of appeals also concluded that there were sufficient dissimilarities between the prior occasion on which Braun allegedly grabbed the steering wheel, and the occasion of the accident involving Muckerheide, to undercut the relevance of the offered testimony of Braun's father. Muckerheide then filed a petition for review with this court, which we granted.

II

¶ 17 In reviewing a court's decision to admit or exclude other acts evidence, the applicable standard is whether the court exercised appropriate discretion. Sullivan, 216 Wis.2d at 780, 576 N.W.2d 30. As with other discretionary determinations, this court will uphold the decision of the circuit court to admit or exclude evidence, if the circuit court examined the relevant facts, applied a proper legal standard, and reached a reasonable conclusion using a demonstrated rational process. Martindale v. Ripp, 2001 WI 113, ¶ 28, 246 Wis.2d 67, 629 N.W.2d 698.

¶ 18 We determine as a matter of constitutional fact whether the exclusion of evidence offered by a defendant violated the...

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    ...facts, applied a proper legal standard, and reached a reasonable conclusion using a demonstrated rational process. State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 17, ___ Wis.2d ___, 725 N.W.2d ¶ 32 This case also requires us to determine whether Mayo's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. The......
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    ...to save their clients money, and to save the court time. 9. Leitinger, 295 Wis.2d 372, ¶ 17, 720 N.W.2d 152. 10. State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 17, ___ Wis.2d ___, 725 N.W.2d 11. State v. Hutnik, 39 Wis.2d 754, 763, 159 N.W.2d 733 (1968) ("If a judge bases the exercise of his discretion......
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  • State v. O'Brien, Nos. 2012AP1769–CR, 2012AP1770–CR, 2012AP1863–CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
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    ...of law which we review independently of the decisions rendered by the circuit court and the court of appeals. State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 17, 298 Wis.2d 553, 725 N.W.2d 930; State v. Quintana, 2008 WI 33, ¶ 12, 308 Wis.2d 615, 748 N.W.2d 447. ¶ 17 A party challenging the constitution......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 26, 2007
    ...facts, applied a proper legal standard, and reached a reasonable conclusion using a demonstrated rational process. State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 17, ___ Wis.2d ___, 725 N.W.2d ¶ 32 This case also requires us to determine whether Mayo's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. The......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 3, 2007
    ...to save their clients money, and to save the court time. 9. Leitinger, 295 Wis.2d 372, ¶ 17, 720 N.W.2d 152. 10. State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 17, ___ Wis.2d ___, 725 N.W.2d 11. State v. Hutnik, 39 Wis.2d 754, 763, 159 N.W.2d 733 (1968) ("If a judge bases the exercise of his discretion......
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    ...causes a jury to base its decision on something other than the established propositions in the case.385 Wis.2d 725 State v. Muckerheide, 2007 WI 5, ¶ 33, 298 Wis. 2d 553, 725 N.W.2d 930. In this case, the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion by concluding that the proba......
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