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Attorney General Van Hollen Praises Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision Upholding Sexual Assault Conviction


MADISON - Statements made by a witness to a police officer were admissible under the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence and the Confrontation Clauses of the federal and state constitutions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared today in a decision handed down in State v. Nelis. The Supreme Court's decision affirmed the Ashland County conviction of Samuel Nelis for sexual assault.


Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office handled the appeal, hailed the Court's decision.


"The Supreme Court's opinion explains the legal standards that Wisconsin courts must use when determining whether a witness's prior statements are admissible under the Rules of Evidence and the Confrontation Clause. The decision reaffirms that such statements are admissible when they are inconsistent with the witness's trial testimony and the witness is subject to cross-examination about those statements. The decision vindicates the litigation strategy used by the prosecutor in this case when faced with the trial testimony of a witness that was at odds with the statements that the witness had given to the police."


As described in the opinion, one of the witnesses at Nelis's trial was Steve Stone, who had given police officers two statements, one oral and one written, on the night of the incident. At trial, Steve Stone's testimony was inconsistent with the information he had given to the police. After Steve Stone's testimony concluded, the state called Chief Jim Stone of the Bad River Police Department to testify about the oral statement that Steve Stone had given to him.


Nelis argued on appeal that Chief Stone's testimony about Steve Stone's oral statement was inadmissible hearsay and that the admission of that statement violated his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him. Nelis claimed that he was unable to cross-examine Steve Stone about the statement to Chief Stone because that statement was not disclosed to him prior to trial.


The Supreme Court held the State was not required to disclose Steve Stone's statement to Chief Stone prior to trial because the only oral statements that the State is required to disclose to the defense before trial are those made by defendants themselves. The court concluded that Chief Stone's testimony was not inadmissible hearsay because Steve Stone's statements were admissible under the Rules of Evidence as prior inconsistent statements. The court noted that the trial record did not establish that Steve Stone became unavailable for recall to the stand after he testified. The court further held that Nelis's constitutional right to confrontation was not violated because Steve Stone testified at trial about the sexual assault incident and his statements to the police and was subject to cross-examination concerning those statements.


Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy successfully prosecuted this case. The State of Wisconsin was represented in the Supreme Court by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Kassel.