Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's postconviction motion but reversing the denial of Defendant's request for an evidentiary hearing, holding that the circuit court properly exercised its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing.After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of one count each of felony murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. In his motion for postconviction relief Defendant argued that the trial judge's ex parte contact with one juror violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to hearsay testimony. The circuit court denied the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion but reversed and remanded on the ground that Defendant was entitled to a hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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In this case regarding the interpretation of Wis. Stat. 939.46(1m) and the scope of the "affirmative defense for any offense committed as a direct result" of human or child sex trafficking the Supreme Court held that the statute is a complete defense to first-degree intentional homicide.Defendant was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, arson, and several other offenses in connection with the death of the man she says trafficked her. At issue was whether Defendant was entitled to a jury instruction on the defense provided in section 939.46(1m) at trial as to some or all of the charges against her. The Supreme Court declined to answer this question because it would be available to Defendant at trial only if she put forth some evidence to support its application. The Court then held that if Defendant does provide such evidence, it will be the State's burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense does not apply. View "State v. Kizer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the circuit court convicting Defendant on the charge of first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm, holding that Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not violated.At issue was whether Defendant's constitutional right to counsel was violated when a jail inmate secretly recorded conversations with Defendant and when the State admitted those recordings into evidence. The court of appeals reversed on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, concluding that trial counsel's failure to seek suppression of the recording fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not violated because Defendant was not acting as a State agent when he recorded his conversations with Defendant. View "State v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence, including a handgun, obtained as a result of an investigative stop, holding that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe Defendant was involved in criminal activity.Defendant was charged with being a felon in possession. Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the investigative stop leading to the discovery of the handgun violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure. The circuit court denied the motion, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the officers did not violate Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights because they reasonably suspected Defendant was involved in criminal activity presenting an imminent threat to public safety. View "State v. Nimmer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals summarily affirming the judgment of the circuit court granting the State's motion to dismiss the operating while intoxicated (OWI) count against Defendant and entering judgment against Defendant on the count of operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC), holding that there was no error.The circuit court issued a search warrant to draw Defendant's blood based on the affidavit of a police officer. Defendant's blood was drawn, revealing a blood alcohol level of an amount well above the legal limit. The State charged Defendant with fourth offense OWI, fourth offense PAC, and resisting an officer. After the circuit court denied Defendant's motion to suppress a jury found Defendant guilty of OWI and PAC. The circuit court dismissed the OWI count and entered judgment on the PAC count. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the warrant was supported by probable cause. View "State v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Wisconsin's operating while intoxicated (OWI) graduated-penalty scheme is unconstitutional to the extent it counts prior revocations for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood draw as offenses for the purpose of increasing the criminal penalty.When Defendant was convicted of his sixth OWI offense the court counted as one of his six prior offenses a 1996 temporary revocation of Defendant's driving privileges for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood draw, which led to Defendant receiving a longer sentence. On appeal, Defendant argued that Wisconsin's graduated-penalty scheme for OWI offenses is unconstitutional because it threatens criminal penalties for those who exercise their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Wis. Stat. 343.307(1) and 346.65(2)(am) are unconstitutional to the extent that they count as offenses prior revocations resulting solely from a person's refusal to submit to a warrantless blood draw for the purpose of increasing the criminal penalty. View "State v. Forrett" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion collaterally attacking two prior convictions from 1995 and 2002, holding that the lack of a transcript meant that Defendant retained the burden to prove a violation of her right to counsel occurred.Defendant was charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI), and her driving record showed three prior OWI convictions. Defendant collaterally attacked two of those convictions, claiming that she did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive her right to counsel. The relevant documents of the convictions, however, no longer existed, and the State could therefore not produce transcripts from either case at the motion hearing. The circuit court granted Defendant's motion, concluding that Defendant's testimony shifted the burden to the State, which submitted insufficient evidence to refute the testimony. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant retained the burden to demonstrate a violation of her right to counsel. View "State v. Clark" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court suppressing the results of a sheriff's deputy's blood test performed on Defendant but allowing the State to subpoena the hospital for Defendant's medical records, which included the hospital's blood-test results, holding that there was no error.After Defendant crashed his vehicle, he was taken to the hospital. While he was there, two blood tests were performed - the first one by the hospital for treatment purposes and a later one at the direction of the deputy for diagnostic and investigative purposes. Defendant moved to suppress the results of the deputy's blood draw because the deputy had no warrant and no exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. The circuit court granted the motion. Thereafter, the court granted the State's request to issue a subpoena to the hospital for Defendant's medical records. On appeal, Defendant argued that those results should be suppressed under the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hospital's blood-test results were admissible under the independent-source doctrine. View "State v. Linn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ruled that Cree, Inc. did not unlawfully discriminate against Derrick Palmer based on his conviction record by rescinding its job offer, holding that Cree sufficiently established that the circumstances surrounding Palmer's prior convictions for domestic violence substantially related to the circumstances of the offered position.In 2013, Palmer was convicted for committing eight crimes of domestic violence against his live-in girlfriend. Palmer later applied to work for Cree as an Applications Specialist. Cree offered Palmer the job subject to a background check, which revealed Palmer's 2013 convictions. Cree then rescinded its offer of employment. Palmer subsequently filed a discrimination complaint. The Labor and Industry Review Commission concluded that the domestic crimes at issue did not substantially related to the Applications Specialist job, and therefore, Cree discriminated against Palmer when it rescinded its job offer. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Cree met its burden to establish a substantial relationship between the circumstances of Palmer's convicted offenses and the circumstances of the Applications Specialist position; and (2) therefore, Cree did not unlawfully discriminate against Palmer based on his conviction record. View "Cree, Inc. v. Labor & Industry Review Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court adopted proposed remedial state senate and state assembly maps submitted by Governor Tony Evers in response to the Court's call for proposed maps for the set of districts where new district boundaries were required due to this Court's holding that maps enacted into law in 2011 were unconstitutional, holding that Governor Evers' maps satisfied all requirements.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as to the proposed congressional maps, Governor Evers' proposed congressional map most complied with this Court's least-change directive, the federal Constitution, and all other applicable laws; and (2) as to the proposed State legislative maps, the Governor's proposed senate and assembly maps produced less overall change than other submissions, and the Governor's proposals satisfied the requirements of the state and federal constitutions. View "Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law