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High court issues order on changes to evidence rules

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an order Wednesday formally adopting several changes to the state’s rules of evidence.

The justices decided to:

  • Change Wisconsin’s rule for allowing past criminal convictions to be introduced to impeach witnesses. Wis. Stat. 906.09 will now conform with state case law and courtroom practice. In its current form, the rule mirrors its federal counterpart, FRE 609, even though Wisconsin’s practices differ in two ways from what’s done in federal courts: Wisconsin does not put any limits on the type of criminal conviction that can be brought up and provides for no separate hearing to take place before a judge on such matters before trial.
  • Revise the state’s rule governing the impeachment of witnesses by introducing evidence of specific acts – a rule spelled out in Wis. Stat. 906.08 – so that  it matches up with its federal counterpart, FRE 608, which was amended in 2003. The change deletes the word “credibility” and replaces it with “character for truthfulness.”
  • Expand a state rule involving the admissibility of writings and recorded statements –Wis. Stat. 901.07 – so that it conforms to the rule of completeness adopted by the court.
  • Establish Wis. Stat 906.16, which states that evidence of bias may be introduced to impeach a witness.

The changes, which will take effect Jan. 1, were first proposed in 2016 by the Judicial Council, a 21-member body of practitioners and lawmakers, in response to a years-long study conducted by its evidence and civil-procedure committee. The court voted in January, though, to return the proposal to the council for more revisions. The council amended the petition with helped from Marquette Law Professor Dan Blinka and a new version in March, and the court voted in May to hold a hearing on it.

The court held a public hearing on the changes in September and voted shortly afterward in closed conference to adopt them.

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