Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's denial of Defendant's suppression motion, holding that the deputies in this case were not acting as bona fide community caretakers when they seized Defendant's vehicle without a warrant, and therefore, the seizure and ensuing inventory search were both unconstitutional. Defendant was stopped for speeding and had been driving with a suspended operators license. The deputies told Defendant that department policy required them to take the vehicle to an impound lot. Prior to the tow, the deputies conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and discovered a firearm. Defendant was arrested for possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendant moved to suppress the firearm, arguing that the "community caretaker" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement did not justify seizure of the vehicle. The circuit court denied the motion. Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief challenging the denial of his suppression motion. The circuit court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the deputies were not acting as community caretakers when they decided to impound Defendant's vehicle; and (2) therefore, the seizure and ensuing inventory search were unconstitutional. View "State v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant, Plaintiff's former criminal defense attorney, on Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim, holding that nothing about Plaintiff's case warranted developing an exception to the actual innocence rule. The actual innocence rule requires a criminal defendant who brings a legal malpractice action against his defense attorney to establish that the defendant did not commit the crime of which he was convicted. Plaintiff conceded that he was guilty but argued that Wisconsin courts should create an exception to the actual innocence rule. The circuit court declined to adopt a novel exception to prevailing law, applied the actual innocence rule, and granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff failed to satisfy his burden of establishing a compelling reason to change existing law; and (2) because Plaintiff conceded guilt, his claim of legal malpractice was legally barred. View "Skindzelewski v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals denying Appellant's petition for habeas corpus after Appellant previously sought Wis. Stat. 974.06 postconviction relief without success, holding that the circuit court is the appropriate forum for Appellant's claim that postconviction counsel was ineffective for failing to assert an ineffective trial counsel claim and that the language in State v. Starks, 833 N.W.2d 146 (Wis. 2013), is withdrawn to the extent it contradicts this conclusion. In both his habeas petition and postconviction motion, Appellant claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel for alleged errors that took place after his conviction. In ruling on Appellant's postconviction motion, the circuit court concluded that Appellant had sought relief in the wrong forum and should have instead filed a habeas petition. Appellant filed a habeas petition, which the court of appeals denied on the grounds that appellant should have instead filed an appeal of the circuit court's denial of his postconviction motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Knight/Rothering framework remains the correct mythology for determining the appropriate forum for a criminal defendant to file a claim relating to ineffective assistance of counsel after conviction; and (2) Appellant's original section 974.06 motion in the circuit court was properly filed. View "Warren v. Meisner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of Defendant's vehicle incident to his lawful arrest for operating while intoxicated (OWI), holding that the search was lawful because the police had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In affirming the denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, the court of appeals concluded that the lawful arrest for OWI, in and of itself, supplied a sufficient basis to search the passenger compartment of Defendant's vehicle and, specifically, a bag located behind the driver's seat that contained marijuana. The Supreme Court affirmed but on other grounds, holding (1) Defendant's lawful arrest for OWI, in and of itself, did not supply a sufficient basis to search the passenger compartment of Defendant's vehicle; but (2) based on the totality of the circumstances, the police had reasonable suspicion that the passenger compartment, and specifically, the bag might contain evidence of OWI. View "State v. Coffee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of conviction entered against Defendant, holding that the court of appeals erred in reversing the circuit court's exercise of discretion in excluding unidentified DNA evidence. Defendant was convicted of sexual assault and enticement of his stepdaughter. Defendant filed a postconviction motion, which the circuit court denied. Defendant appealed the denial of his postconviction motion and, by direct appeal, also challenged the circuit court's decision to exclude unidentified DNA evidence and to allow other acts evidence. The court of appeals reversed the judgment of conviction. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that (1) the court of appeals erred in reversing the circuit court's exercise of discretion in excluding unidentified DNA evidence; (2) the court of appeals properly affirmed the circuit court's admission of other acts evidence; and (3) Defendant was not denied his right to an impartial jury or his right to effective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing an order of the circuit court that granted sentence credit to Defendant, holding that the court of appeals correctly found that Defendant was not entitled to sentence credit but erred by advancing the commencement of Defendant's terms of extended supervision for Defendant's 2007 and 2008 cases. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not entitled to sentence credit under Wis. Stat. 973.155(1)(a) because the days he spent in custody for which he sought sentence credit were not in connection with the courses of conduct for which those sentences were imposed; and (2) the court of appeals erred by advancing the commencement of Defendant's terms of extended supervision for his 2007 and 2008 cases to the date they would have begun but for Defendant's confinement for unrelated convictions that were later set aside, holding that whether to employ advancement is a public policy decision best left to the legislature. View "State v. Harrison" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Wis. Stat. 51.61(1)(g), which permits the involuntary medication of an incompetent but non-dangerous inmate, is facially unconstitutional for any inmate who is involuntarily committed based on determinations that he was mentally ill and in need of treatment when the inmate is involuntarily medicated based merely on a determination that the inmate is incompetent to refuse medication. At issue before the Supreme Court was the circuit court's order of extension of commitment, order for involuntary medication and treatment, and order denying C.S.'s postcommitment motion. C.S., who suffered from schizophrenia, was committed while he was an inmate. Because he was determined incompetent to refuse medication pursuant to section 51.61(1)(g) he was the subject of multiple involuntary medication court orders. C.S. was committed not based upon a determination of dangerousness but, rather, on determinations that he was mentally ill and in need of treatment. C.S. argued that section 51.61(1)(g)(3 is unconstitutional when it permits the involuntary medication of any inmate committed under Wis. Stat. 51.20(1)(ar) without a determination that the inmate is dangerous. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that incompetence to refuse medication alone is not an essential or overriding State interest and cannot justify involuntary medication. View "Winnebago County v. C.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals rejecting Defendant's assertion that his second criminal prosecution violated the constitutional proscription of double jeopardy, holding that the State's second prosecution of Defendant for sexual assault did not violate the double jeopardy provisions of the Fifth Amendment or Article I, Section 8 of the Wisconsin Constitution. A jury acquitted Defendant of the charge of repeated sexual assault of a child for engaging in sexual intercourse with the victim, M.T., in "late summer to early fall of 2012." Thereafter, paternity tests revealed that Defendant was the father of M.T.'s child. The State subsequently charged Defendant with sexual assault of a child under sixteen years of age occurring "on or about October 19, 2012," the date it was determined the child was conceived. Defendant was convicted. Defendant moved for postconviction relief, asserting that his second prosecution violated the constitutional proscription of double jeopardy. The circuit court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the two cases against Defendant did not involve the "same offense" under the Double Jeopardy Clause. View "State v. Schultz" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals, holding that venue in Fond du Lac County was proper but that two of the charges on which the jury convicted Defendant were multiplicitous. Defendant was transported to the Fond du Lac County jail to face criminal charges unrelated to this case. During the booking process, a cache of narcotics and prescription medications was discovered in Defendant's boot. This case was then brought in the Fond du Lac County circuit court. A jury found Defendant guilty of multiple drug-related charges. Defendant filed a postconviction motion claiming that venue was improper in Fond du Lac County because he did not possess the drugs when the deputy discovered them where his arrest in Kenosha County terminated his ability to possess contraband on his person. Defendant also argued that two charges for possessing oxycodone were multiplicitous. The postconviction court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant did not lose possession of the drugs in his boot upon his arrest, and because he still possessed the drugs in Fond du Lac County, venue there was proper; and (2) the two charges at issue were multiplicitous. View "State v. Brantner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming a $4,800 fine imposed by the circuit court upon sentencing Defendant for third-offense OWI, holding that the court of appeals erred in interpreting the penalty enhancers in Wisconsin's OWI statutes. Defendant faced two penalty enhancers. At issue was how the penalty enhancers' provisions requiring "doubling" and "quadrupling" of the fine for a third-offense OWI should be determined when multiple penalty enhancers apply. The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred in affirming the $4,800 fine imposed by the circuit court, holding that, under the correct interpretation of the statutes, Defendant's two fines totaled $3,600, not $4,800. View "State v. Neill" on Justia Law