Justia Wisconsin Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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A group of voters and officials in Wisconsin brought a case before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, arguing that the state's current legislative districts were not contiguous and therefore violated the state constitution. The respondents countered that the districts were contiguous, as they included separate, detached territories known as "municipal islands." The court ruled in favor of the petitioners, holding that the current legislative districts did not meet the contiguity requirements of the state constitution. The court explained that "contiguous territory" means territory that is physically touching, and the current districts, which include separate, detached parts, do not meet this requirement. The court also rejected the respondents' defenses of lack of standing, laches, issue preclusion, claim preclusion, and judicial estoppel. As a remedy, the court enjoined the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current legislative maps in future elections and urged the legislature to pass legislation creating new maps that satisfy all legal requirements. The court also set forth a process for adopting new state legislative districts if the legislature fails to enact new maps. View "Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the case against him with prejudice after a mistrial was declared, holding that retrial would not violate Defendant's right against double jeopardy.Defendant was tried on one count of trafficking of a child. During trial, the trial court declared a mistrial on the basis that certain evidence was improperly admitted. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that retrial would violate his right under the Fifth Amendment, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, to be free against double jeopardy. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court exercised sound discretion in ordering a mistrial based on manifest necessity and that retrial will not violate Defendant's Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy. View "State v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's demand for a jury trial before Walworth County extended his involuntary commitment for twelve additional months, holding that Waukesha County v. E.J.W., 966 N.W.2d 590 (Wis. 2021), applied retroactively to Appellant's case and that the denial of Appellant's jury demand was erroneous.Following a mental health crisis, Appellant was involuntarily committed and forcibly medicated for six months. Walworth County later sought to extend Appellant's commitment for twelve months. Appellant filed a jury demand at least forty-eight hours prior to his rescheduled final hearing date, but the circuit court denied the jury demand as untimely. Thereafter, the Supreme Court decided E.J.W., which held that a jury demand is timely filed if it is filed at least forty-eight hours before a rescheduled final hearing. Appellant appealed, arguing that E.J.W. applied retroactively. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) E.J.W. applies retroactively; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the proper remedy for the circuit court's denial of Appellant's jury demand was not remand but reversal. View "Walworth County v. M.R.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court to suppress the results of a search of Defendant, holding that the law enforcement officers had probable cause to arrest Defendant, and therefore, the underlying search was a lawful search incident to arrest.A police officer executed a traffic stop of Defendant for speeding and, during her initial contact with Defendant, "detected an odor of raw marijuana." The officer called for back-up, and two officers escorted Defendant out of the vehicle. The officers proceeded to search Defendant based on the odor of marijuana and found two baggies containing cocaine and fentanyl. Defendant filed a motion to suppress on the grounds that the State lacked probable cause to arrest and search him. The circuit court granted the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had probable cause to arrest Defendant on the belief that he was committing or had committed a crime, and therefore, there was no Fourth Amendment violation. View "State v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's denial of Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that any error during the underlying proceedings that may have violated Defendant's right to confrontation was harmless.Defendant was convicted, after a jury trial, of delivering more than fifty grams of methamphetamine. In his postconviction petition, Defendant argued that the admission of certain testimony was hearsay, and therefore, his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment was violated. The circuit court denied relief. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that if any error occurred it was harmless. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, assuming without deciding that Defendant's confrontation right was violated, the error was harmless. View "State v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the challenges to the victim's rights amendment termed "Marsy's Law" that was brought by Wisconsin Justice Initiative, Inc. and several citizens (WJI) failed and that the amendment was validly ratified and properly part of the Wisconsin Constitution.In April 2020, the people of Wisconsin ratified Marsy's Law. In this action, WJI argued that the ballot question for Marsy's Law that was submitted to Wisconsin voters violated Wis. Const. art. XII, 1 because it misled voters by neglecting the amendment's impact on the rights of criminal defendants. The circuit court granted declaratory judgment for WJI, concluding that the ballot question failed to meet requirements as to content and form. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Mary's Law was validly submitted to and ratified by voters, as required by the constitution. View "Wis. Justice Initiative, Inc. v. Wis. Elections Comm'n" on Justia Law

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A fight erupted during a house party; someone fired multiple shots into the bedroom through the door, striking and killing Walker. Police obtained statements from more than 25 individuals. Eyewitness descriptions identified the shooter as a black male who used his right hand, but descriptions were otherwise very inconsistent. After the party, rumors circulated on Facebook accusing Smyth of the shooting. The police later turned their attention to Harris and, ultimately, to Mull, who was identified as the shooter by several witnesses. At Mull’s jury trial, the prosecution presented multiple witnesses. The defense did not call any witnesses. Convicted of first-degree reckless homicide, Mull was sentenced to 25 years' confinement.The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed an order granting Mull a new trial, rejecting Mull’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for "failing to file a third-party perpetrator motion regarding any one of the viable alternate suspects.” Counsel testified he thought a reasonable doubt defense was preferable to a third-party perpetrator defense because it was difficult to locate witnesses, even using an investigator, and that there were credibility issues and inconsistent accounts. Counsel objected to a line of questioning relative to out-of-court messages and attempted to discredit that testimony on cross-examination; he did not move to strike a statement made during cross-examination because he did not want "too much attention." The court concluded that the controversy was fully tried, and it is not probable that justice has miscarried. View "State v. Mull" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for two counts each of second-degree sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault of a child and also reversing the circuit court's order denying Defendant's motion for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant was not entitled to postconviction relief.In his motion for postconviction relief, Defendant argued that the prosecutor at his trial violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by adversely commenting on his decision not to testify. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the prosecutor's argument that the evidence was "uncontroverted" was improper, thus violating Defendant's Fifth Amendment right not to testify at trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the prosecutor did not comment on Defendant's silence, and therefore, the circuit court properly denied Defendant's motion for postconviction relief. View "State v. Hoyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault, and false imprisonment, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.The Supreme Court accepted for review the issues of (1) whether Defendant's confession of sexual assault was corroborated by a significant fact; and (2) whether the cross-examination of Defendant's expert witness through the use of a Wisconsin Crime Lab report that was not entered into evidence and whose author did not testify violated Defendant's constitutional right to confrontation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the State sufficiently corroborated Defendant's confession of sexual assault; and (2) the State improperly used the report's content for its truth during closing arguments, but the circuit court's error in permitting this argument was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Dunn County on Plaintiff's claim filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that Plaintiff's section 1983 claim against Dunn County failed.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that she presented evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Dunn County violated her rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when a correctional officer sexually assaulted her. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), no reasonable fact finder could conclude that Dunn County was the causal, moving force behind the sexual assault; and (2) there was insufficient evidence demonstrating that Dunn County acted with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious consequence that the correctional officer would sexually assault Plaintiff. View "Slabey v. Dunn County" on Justia Law