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Man's Domestic Battery Conviction Stands Despite Prosecutor's Use of Past Domestic Violence History

The actions one man undertook in one alcohol-fueled summer night ultimately led his conviction on several domestic violence charges. The trial court's decision to allow the state to tell the jury about the man's previous domestic violence conviction did not entitle him to a new trial, however, since the information had more valid usefulness to the jury than it had probability to unfairly bias the jury. The Illinois Appellate Court's decision shows how challenging obtaining new trials can be in these situations, even when the previous conviction disclosed to the jury is identical to the one for which the accused is on trial.

The actions one man undertook in one alcohol-fueled summer night ultimately led his conviction on several domestic violence charges. The trial court's decision to allow the state to tell the jury about the man's previous domestic violence conviction did not entitle him to a new trial, however, since the information had more valid usefulness to the jury than it had probability to unfairly bias the jury. The Illinois Appellate Court's decision shows how challenging obtaining new trials can be in these situations, even when the previous conviction disclosed to the jury is identical to the one for which the accused is on trial.

Christopher Raney's criminal charges stemmed from the several events occurring during one night in July 2011. That night, Raney broke two years of sobriety and began drinking. The man drove toward his father's house but detoured to the home of his ex-wife. Knowing that the ex-wife had an order of protection against him, he parked his car in the driveway, stayed briefly without getting out, and then drove away.

After that, he went to his father's house, where a dispute ensued after the father demanded that Raney leave because he was drunk. Raney injured his father's arm in the altercation. The state charged Raney with criminal trespass and violating the order of protection for going to his ex-wife's house, and with aggravated battery and domestic battery for injuring his 80-year-old father.

At his trial, the state offered evidence of Raney's 2006 felony domestic battery conviction in order to attempt to reduce his credibility with the jury. The jury ultimately convicted him on all counts.

Raney raised several issues on appeal, including arguing that the jury never should have heard about his 2006 felony domestic battery conviction. The appellate court disagreed, explaining how the 2006 conviction met all the criteria for inclusion. A conviction must be less than 10 years old and punishable by more than a year in prison, or else it should be excluded. A conviction can also be excluded, even if it meets these two criteria, if its chances of unfairly prejudicing the jury outweigh its value to the case.

In Raney's circumstance, the 2006 conviction was only six years old and was a felony punishable by more than one year in prison. Additionally, the 2006 conviction had probative value because, to the extent that the jury might see Raney as "a witness of a blameless life," it allowed the state to counter that perspective. The appeals also ruled that the 2006 conviction did not unfairly bias the jury, even though both cases involved the same criminal charge. The similarity of the charges is one factor a trial court must contemplate in deciding the risk of unfair prejudice, but the fact that the previous conviction the state seeks to introduce is identical to the charges facing an accused person does not automatically mean that introducing the previous conviction will create unfair bias.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, it is wise to consider retaining experienced counsel to represent you. The DuPage County criminal defense attorneys at Martin & Kent can help you with all aspects of your case, from assessing the strength of your case to analyzing your options and putting forward the best defense available.

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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