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 Wisconsin Supreme Court Reinstates Conviction Of Wausau Woman For Obstructing An Officer

 

"When the defendant pushed her housemate in her doorway while talking to police standing outside, police properly stepped in the home to arrest her and protect the young man.  When she kicked at the officers and otherwise resisted their lawful instructions, she obstructed an officer," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

 

MADISON The Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the conviction of Kelly R. Ferguson of Wausau for misdemeanor obstructing an officer pursuant to Wis. Stat. 946.41(1). 

 

"When the defendant pushed her young housemate in her doorway while yelling and swearing at him and the police standing outside, police properly stepped in the home to arrest her and protect the young man.  When she kicked at the officers and otherwise resisted their lawful instructions, she obstructed an officer," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office handled the appeal.

 

On December 29, 2005 at 4:30 in the morning, Wausau police responded to a report of an attempted break in at an apartment home.  The complainant identified Ferguson, also a tenant in the building, as the person who was pounding on his door and threatening to evict him.  Police then went to Fergusons apartment.  She opened the door and, smelling of intoxicants, became belligerent, yelling and swearing at the officers.  When her young housemate attempted to calm her down, she shoved him, cursed at him, and told him to pack his things and move out. 

 

Police, concerned about Fergusons agitated conduct towards the young man, entered the apartment and arrested Ferguson for disorderly conduct.  Through a variety of tactics, including kicking one officer, Ferguson resisted arrest.  She was ultimately charged with a number of offenses, including disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer. 

 

A jury convicted Ferguson of disorderly conduct and obstruction.  Last year in an unpublished decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the obstruction conviction on the grounds that the circuit court impoperly instructed the jury regarding whether an officer is acting within his or her "lawful authority," a required element of the crime of obstructing an officer.   

 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed, noting that police may enter a home when exigent circumstances exist and that these exigent circumstances can include entry after witnessing the commission of a jailable criminal offense.  The circuit courts jury instruction, the Supreme Court held, was a proper statement of the law and if there was any error in failing to give an "exigent circumstances" instruction to the jury, it was harmless.  In its decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled a 2002 Court of Appeals decision State v. Mikkelson, which had held that warrantless entry of a home based on exigent circumstances involving a crime required the underlying crime to be a felony offense.  

 

"By overruling Mikkelson, our Supreme Court brought Wisconsin case law into conformity with United States Supreme Court 4th Amendment precedent, which protects the sanctity of the home and the safety of individuals in the home.  Here, Ferguson created the circumstances that allowed police to lawfully enter her home and protect the young man who was in danger due to her criminal activity."

 

The Wausau District Attorneys Office represented the state in the circuit court.  Assistant Attorney General Maura Whelan handled the case for the State in the Supreme Court.