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DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE EARNS VICTORY IN UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

 

Shawano County Homicide Conviction Will Stand

 

MADISON - Ending over a decade of litigation, the United States Supreme Court ruled today that Joseph L. Van Patten was not entitled to federal relief, meaning that his 1995 Shawano County homicide conviction will stand.

 

In a per curiam opinion that summarily granted the State's petition for review and reversed a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Court held that the Seventh Circuit overstepped the limits Congress established for granting a State prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254, the federal habeas corpus statute. That statute bars federal habeas relief of state convictions unless the state court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Because no Supreme Court decision squarely addresses whether a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel is deprived where the defendant's attorney appears telephonically at a plea hearing, the Court determined that this case was not appropriate for collateral federal relief.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office represented the State before the nation's highest court, was pleased with the decision. "Today's decision means that the conviction stands and there will be no need for a new trial or further legal proceedings," Van Hollen said. "The Court's decision vindicates the conscientiousness of Wisconsin's judicial review process."

 

Today's decision ends a lengthy case that began in Shawano County in October 1993, when Joseph L. Van Patten murdered Todd Anderson by firing a bullet into the back of his head. The State charged Van Patten with first-degree intentional homicide. In September 1995, Van Patten pled "no contest" to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Shawano County Circuit Judge Earl W. Schmidt sentenced Van Patten to twenty-five years in prison. Unhappy with his sentence, Van Patten filed a post-conviction motion charging his lawyer with providing ineffective assistance by participating in the plea hearing via a telephonic connection rather than appearing physically in court. After hearing testimony, Judge Schmidt denied the motion. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Schmidt's decision, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected Van Patten's request for further review.

In October 1998, Van Patten filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, located in Milwaukee. In September 2003, the district court denied Van Patten's petition. The Seventh Circuit, however, reversed the district court in January 2006 and ordered the lower court to grant Van Patten's petition, which would have the effect of requiring a new trial.

 

In January 2007, the United States Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the Seventh Circuit's decision, and remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit for further consideration in light of Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct. 649 (2006), a decision issued by the Supreme Court about a month earlier.

 

On remand, the Seventh Circuit (with one of the panel's three judges dissenting) reinstated its original decision and opinion. The State once again filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Today's decision granted that petition, reversed the Seventh Circuit's decision, and ended the litigation.

 

A copy of today's United States Supreme Court decision can be found at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-212.pdf.

 

Assistant Attorney General Christopher G. Wren represented the State in the federal court proceedings.