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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Caregiver's First-Degree Reckless Homicide Conviction in Death of Seven-Week Old Infant; Court Rules That Caregiver's Statements to Police

 

"The right to counsel and the right to remain silent are given by the constitution to defendants not to their family members and not to their attorney," says Van Hollen.  "In this case, it was up to the defendant to decide whether to talk with police and whether to ask for a lawyer's help in making this decision.  She decided on her own to talk with police, and she must accept both the consequences of that decision and the acts that she confessed to committing."

 

MADISON - This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision that upheld Jennifer Ward's conviction for first-degree reckless homicide in the death of her infant nephew.  The state's theory was that Ward had shaken her infant nephew, causing a subdural hematoma, which had ultimately led to his death.  During three separate sessions of questioning with police, Ward admitted to handling the infant roughly.  She later argued that her statements to police and her waiver of her right to an attorney were not knowing and voluntary because she was not allowed to speak with her family during the course of police questioning and because police did not tell her that a lawyer was waiting to speak with her.

 

Van Hollen explained:  "The right to counsel and the right to remain silent are given by the constitution to defendants - not to their family members and not to their attorney.  In this case, it was up to Ward to decide whether to talk with police and whether to ask for a lawyer's help in making this decision.  She decided on her own to talk with police, and she must accept both the consequences of that decision and the acts that she confessed to committing. 

 

In reaching this decision, the court made clear that the constitution does not require the police to advise a suspect of the immediate availability of a particular attorney.  The court explained that police officers' "only obligation was to permit Ward to speak to an attorney if she asked to do so.  All she had to say was, 'I want a lawyer.'  Ward never did this."

 

The decision and opinion of the Wisconsin Supreme Court appears on the court's website:


http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=36966

 

The Oneida County District Attorney's Office represented the State of Wisconsin in Oneida County Circuit Court.  Assistant Attorney General Mark A. Neuser represented the State in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.