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Madison - Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the Department of Justice achieved three victories in the Wisconsin Supreme Court today. Each case reversed the court of appeals, thereby reinstating felony convictions that had been obtained in the circuit court. Two of the cases emanate from Milwaukee county; the other from Ozaukee County.
"I am pleased with today's decisions," Van Hollen said. "One of the ways my office fights crime is by supporting the law enforcement officers and prosecutors on the front lines in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In each of these cases, I felt there were solid legal arguments in support of the underlying circuit court convictions that had been vacated by the court of appeals. I am gratified the Supreme Court decided to hear these important cases and accepted our position."
State v. Sumner involved a Milwaukee County felony heroin possession conviction that had been reversed by the court of appeals. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that Milwaukee County Sheriff's deputies acted reasonably in conducting a protective search of Sumner after a traffic stop--a search that led to the discovery of heroin and other drug paraphernalia. The Court held that Sumner's behavior before and during the stop led the deputies to reasonably believe Sumner was armed and dangerous, thereby justifying the protective search.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the decision. "The sad truth is that danger lurks in many routine' traffic stops," said Van Hollen. "Protective frisks are prudent law enforcement actions to protect officers from danger. The Court recognized this and concluded that the two deputies acted reasonably by conducting a brief pat-down search."
The Milwaukee deputies stopped Sumner's car on a Milwaukee city street after seeing it cross into oncoming traffic. During the stop, the deputies saw the driver making reaching gestures toward the passenger side of the car. After the stop, Sumner--who police learned had a suspended driver's license--behaved nervously and repeatedly put his hands inside his pockets, leading one of the deputies to believe Sumner was armed. A resulting pat-down search led to the discovery of the evidence.
Van Hollen explains: "If police were prevented from taking minimally intrusive steps to ensure their own safety during the course of a stop, then they would be placed in unnecessarily dangerous situations when protecting all of our safety. When law enforcement officers develop a reasonable suspicion that a stopped subject is armed and dangerous, the law permits the officers to conduct a brief protective search. In these situations, the need to protect officer safety justifies the search."
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office represented the State in circuit court proceedings. Assistant Attorney General Stephen W. Kleinmaier represented the State in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
A copy of the Sumner decision is available at: http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=33410.
State v. Doss involved a Milwaukee County felony conviction for theft as a trustee/bailee in a business setting that had been reversed in the court of appeals. The defendant, a Georgia resident, unlawfully took funds from her deceased father's estate in an apparent attempt to avoid tax liability. The primary legal issue in the case was whether the admission of the defendant's bank records through an affidavit violated state statute and the confrontation clause. The Court held that the admission of the bank records was consistent with state statute and was not "testimonial hearsay," thus the evidence could be admitted through affidavit without violating a defendant's constitutional right to confront witnesses.
"In this case, Ms. Doss basically tried to steal from the state, to steal from Wisconsin taxpayers. She got caught and was appropriately prosecuted," Van Hollen said. "The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision today reinstates this conviction and sets a meaningful state precedent that records of this nature could be admitted without violating constitutional rights. These sorts of records can be meaningful in a wide variety of theft, fraud, and other cases."
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office represented the State in circuit court proceedings. The state was represented in the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Kassel.
A copy of the Doss opinion is available at http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=33409.
Last, in State v. Hubbard, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, thereby reinstating the Ozaukee County felony conviction of a man found after trial to have caused serious injury to a nine year old girl by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle. In that case, Hubbard was found to have taken 13 Xanax pills in the 24-hour period preceding the accident. The Court found that the circuit court's response to the jury's questions relating to the definition of "materially impaired" as used in the jury instructions was not an erroneous exercise of discretion.
The Ozaukee County District Attorney's Office represented the State in circuit court proceedings. Assistant Attorney General David Becker represented the State before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
A copy of the Court's opinion in Hubbard is available at http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=33408.