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Attorney General Van Hollen Applauds Supreme Court Decision Affirming Stalking Conviction


MADISON - This morning the Wisconsin Supreme Court released its decision in the case of State v. Jeffrey Warbelton. Warbelton was convicted by a Winnebago County jury in 2005 of a series of crimes directed at his former wife, including stalking, telephone harassment, criminal damage to property, and disorderly conduct. This appeal focused on the stalking conviction.


Warbelton was convicted of the felony version of stalking. A defendant may be convicted of felony stalking if he has a prior conviction for a violent crime. Warbelton contended that evidence of his prior conviction for a violent crime should not have been submitted to the jury. The Supreme Court disagreed.


The Supreme Court carefully considered the issues and made the right decision, said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. This is the third and final court to reach this decision. The fact that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision conclusively shows that this defendant received a fair trial.


In an earlier case the Court held that evidence of prior drunk driving convictions should not be submitted to the jury in a case where the defendant is accused of a third or subsequent offense because the evidence is too prejudicial. The Court reasoned that a jury might convict the defendant of his latest drunk driving charge simply because he had a propensity to drive while intoxicated. In this case the Court ruled that the same kind of prejudice was not apparent where the jury learned that Warbelton had a previous conviction for a violent crime. The Court said that simply informing the jury of the fact of that conviction without identifying it or relaying the details did not have an undue tendency to sway the jury to convict Warbelton simply because he had been convicted of a crime before. So in cases involving felony stalking the jury should be told that the defendant has a prior conviction for a violent crime so that they can properly determine whether he is guilty of the charged offense.


The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Balistreri.