Rhodes v. Dittmann, No. 17-2223 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Rhodes was convicted of first‐degree intentional homicide and first‐degree recklessly endangering safety for shooting two victims, killing Davis. The prosecution’s theory was that Rhodes and his brother shot Davis, who was an ex‐boyfriend of their sister, Nari, and that the other victim was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nari had suffered a severe beating the day before Davis was murdered. Nari’s direct testimony focused on her injuries from the beating the day before. When Rhodes tried to cross‐examine Nari to rebut the motive theory, the judge limited the questioning and did not allow evidence of prior beatings. In 2010, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Rhodes’s conviction, finding that his Confrontation Clause rights were violated and that the violation was not harmless. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the conviction in 2011. Rhodes then sought federal habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1). The district court agreed that Rhodes had shown a clear Confrontation Clause violation but found that the violation was harmless. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The state courts violated clearly established federal law in violating Rhodes’s Confrontation Clause rights. Given the importance of the motive issue and the overall balance of evidence in the trial, the constitutional error was not harmless.