Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court

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Dane County filed amended petitions for the termination of Mable K.'s parental rights of her two children, alleging a continuing need of protection or services and abandonment. On the second day of a fact-finding hearing, Mable failed to personally appear. Following testimony, the circuit court found by default both grounds for termination. After a subsequent dispositional hearing, the district court terminated Mable's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion when it entered the default judgment finding after barring Mable's attorney from offering default evidence; (2) the court erred when it granted the default judgment before taking evidence sufficient to establish the grounds alleged in the amended petitions; and (3) the circuit court's remedy for correcting the errors was fundamentally unfair under the facts of this case. Remanded. View "Dane County Dep't of Human Servs. v. Mable K." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of stalking, bail jumping, and violating a harassment injunction. Defendant appealed, contending (1) the trial court erred when it allowed the State to use certain fingerprint evidence and related testimony in rebuttal, which the court had previously excluded from the State's case-in-chief due to a discovery violation; and (2) he was deprived of his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury because, he claimed, one of the jurors was sleeping during a portion of defense counsel's closing argument. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) properly exercised its discretion in permitting the rebuttal use of the fingerprint evidence and related testimony; and (2) did not clearly err in finding that the juror was not sleeping and in therefore concluding that Defendant failed to establish a finding necessary to his contention. View "State v. Novy" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement officers installed a GPS device on Defendant's vehicle and monitored the vehicle pursuant to a warrant. The warrant was based on witness reports that a car matching the description of Defendant's vehicle had been seen at the locations of recent burglaries in the area. The device was installed after officers lawfully stopped Defendant and his co-defendant in the suspect vehicle. The officers then moved the vehicle to another location where the GPS device could be installed. Only days later, Defendant was arrested and charged with fourteen criminal counts. Defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained through the use of the GPS device on the ground that the evidence was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Defendant then pled guilty to some counts. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Defendant's suppression motion, holding (1) the three-hour seizure of Defendant's vehicle was supported by probable cause and was thus constitutionally permissible; and (2) the technology used in conducing the GPS search did not exceed the scope of the warrant allowing GPS tracking of Defendant's vehicle. View "State v. Brereton" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) under a policy issued by Auto-Owners Insurance Company (Owners) as a result of an automobile accident caused by an allegedly negligent driver of a rental vehicle owned by Avis Rent-a-Car (Avis). Avis, as a car rental company, was statutorily required to pay $50,000 as a result of the accident. Owners denied Petitioners' UIM claim, asserting that because Avis was a self-insurer, the rental vehicle was not an underinsured automobile under the terms of the policy. The circuit court ruled in favor of Owners, determining that Avis was unambiguously a self-insurer, and therefore, the Avis vehicle did not fall within the policy definition of underinsured automobile. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) as applied, the policy term "self-insurer" is ambiguous, and therefore, the policy is interpreted in favor of Petitioners to afford coverage; and (2) even if the term "self-insurer" appears to be unambiguous, interpreting it to exclude self-insured rental vehicles from coverage leads to an absurd result here. Remanded. View "Bethke v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to operating a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol content, fourth offense. Defendant appealed, challenging the circuit court's denial of his suppression motion and collaterally attacking a prior conviction as the result of an invalid waiver to the right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress, as the law enforcement officers' warrantless search of Defendant's bedroom was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) despite a technically deficient plea colloquy, Defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to counsel before he pleaded not contest to his second operating a motor vehicle under the influence offense in 1998, and thus the circuit court properly denied the collateral attack of his earlier conviction and thus properly considered the 1998 conviction in determining that Defendant had three prior relevant convictions. View "City of Menasha v. Gracia" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of two counts of robbery, party to a crime. Twelve years later, Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief, arguing that he was entitled to a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence and in the interest of justice. Defendant's arguments stemmed from new expert analysis of a video of one of the robberies. By applying new technology - digital photogrammetry - one expert concluded that Defendant was too tall to be the robber in the video. The circuit court denied relief. The court of appeals reversed, finding that Defendant was entitled to a new trial based on the photogrammetry evidence and in the interest of justice because the jury was precluded from hearing photogrammetry evidence, and therefore, the real controversy was not fully tried. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was not a reasonable probability that a jury, looking at both the evidence presented at trial and the new digital photogrammetry evidence, would have a reasonable doubt as to Defendant's guilt; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to a new trial in the interest of justice because the controversy was fully tried even though the jury did not hear the photogrammetry evidence. View "State v. Avery" on Justia Law

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Petitioner's child care license was revoked by the Department of Children and Families pursuant to Wis. Stat. 48.685(5)(br), the "caregiver law," which permanently bars those who have ever been convicted of specified predicate crimes from holding a child care license. An ALJ dismissed Petitioner's appeal of the revocation without a hearing based on her conviction on a guilty plea of violating Wis. Stat. 49.12(1) and (6) for a food stamp offense twenty years earlier. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a remand for an administrative hearing was required to determine whether the facts underlying the conviction established it as a conviction barred under the caregiver law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) due deference should be accorded the Department's interpretation and application of the caregiver law; (2) Petitioner had a right to a hearing; and (3) because genuine issues of material fact existed, the ALJ erred in dismissing Petitioner's appeal without a hearing for factual development. View "Jamerson v. Dep't of Children & Families" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with first degree sexual assault of a child. Prior to trial, Defendant moved to suppress statements he made during an undisputedly non-custodial interrogation, claiming they were involuntary. The circuit court found Defendant's statements were voluntary under the totality of the circumstances and allowed admission of the statements at trial. Defendant then testified at trial and was convicted. Defendant appealed on the grounds that the statements were involuntary and were thus improperly admitted. The court of appeals assumed the statements were involuntary but held that, in light of the other evidence produced at trial, the admission of the statements was harmless error. The Supreme Court affirmed but under a different analysis, holding that the admission of Defendant's statements at trial was not error because, under the totality of the circumstances, the statements were voluntary. View "State v. Lemoine" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from litigation against Juneau County relating to an employee of the county sheriff's department. The County's defense was conducted by a law firm, which was retained to represent the County by the County's insurance company. The law firm prepared and sent to the insurance company invoices for its legal services rendered. Relying on the Public Records Law, the Juneau County Star-Times sought access to these invoices. The circuit court denied the Star-Times' claims, concluding that the invoices generated by the law firm did not fall within Wis. Stat. 19.36(3) of the Public Records Law, the "contractors' records" provision, because the County had not contracted with the insurance company for the purposes of collecting the information the Star-Times was seeking. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter to the circuit court to order the County to provide unredacted copies of the invoices to the Star-Times, holding that section 19.36(3) applied to the invoices. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 19.36(3) governed the accessibility of the invoices in this case. View "Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of an automobile accident involving a vehicle owned by the State and driven by Respondent. Petitioners were the estate of Danny Hopgood and individuals who suffered injuries arising from the accident. Petitioners filed complaints, alleging that Respondent was negligent and that his negligence caused the injuries. Because Respondent was an agent of the State Petitioners served notices of claims upon the attorney general. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Respondent, concluding that the notices were not properly "sworn to" pursuant to Wis. Stat. 893.82.(5). The court of appeals summarily affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) to the extent that Newkirk v. Dep't of Transp. expanded the requirements set forth under Kellner v. Christian for a notice of claim to be properly sworn to, it misapplied Kellner, and that language was heretofore withdrawn; and (2) the notices in this case met the two requirements set forth in Kellner for a notice of claim to be properly "sworn to" under section 893.82(5). View "Estate of Hopgood v. Boyd" on Justia Law