(See Review granted in 'State v. McClaren' for a statement of issues)
In this criminal case, the state has asked the Supreme Court to review if a trial court may order a defendant who claims self-defense to make pretrial disclosure of possible evidence of the victim’s prior violent acts.
Some background: Jason McClaren is charged with one count of aggravated battery by use of a dangerous weapon, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and one count of first-degree reckless injury. McClaren is accused of hitting Conrad Goehl in the neck with a pick axe during an incident in McClaren’s garage on March 31, 2007.
During a videotaped interview with police following the incident, McClaren stated that he had acted in self-defense. He asserted that he knew that Goehl had a violent nature and that Goehl had been "in and out of prison."
Prior to trial, McClaren filed a motion in limine indicating that he intended to present evidence of specific instances of conduct that showed violence or a violent nature by Goehl. This was done to support McClaren's claim of perfect self-defense.
The state did not oppose McClaren's attempt to submit such McMorris evidence. See McMorris v. State, 58 Wis. 2d 144, 205 N.W.2d 559 (1973) (allowing defendant to introduce evidence concerning prior specific instances of violent conduct by the victim to show the defendant's knowledge of that violent character).
The circuit court indicated that McClaren would be allowed to introduce such evidence at trial, but ordered McClaren to disclose the nature of such evidence to the state prior to trial. In particular, the circuit court required McClaren to give the state before trial "a (written) summary of all specific instances of the (complainant's) violent conduct of which the defendant was aware and that the defendant intends to introduce at trial, including witnesses to such conduct and the date and place such conduct occurred."
The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court's order. McClaren argued that the circuit court's order requiring pretrial disclosure violated his state and federal constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination. He also claimed that if the circuit court would exclude evidence for failure to comply with the disclosure requirement, the exclusion would violate his constitutional right to due process and to present a defense.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s general superintending authority cannot be read so expansively as to allow a court to require pretrial disclosure that is not authorized under the criminal discovery statute. The Court of Appeals also stated it did not have authority to promulgate rules of criminal practice or procedure.
The state contends that if disclosure is delayed until the middle of trial, the circuit court will be obligated to grant a continuance so the opposing party may investigate and prepare rebuttal. The state also contends that disclosure would be consistent with the federal rule of evidence, which requires the prosecution to provide pretrial notice of “other acts” evidence committed by the defendant.
A decision by the Supreme Court may clarify trial court authority regarding disclosure rules in this type of case. From Jefferson County.