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MADISON - Wisconsin's trial courts possess both statutory authority and inherent authority to order a criminal defendant who claims self-defense to provide a summary before trial of evidence of violent acts of the victim that the defendant intends to introduce at trial to support the claim of self-defense.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued this ruling today in the pending case of Jason L. McClaren, who is charged in Jefferson County Circuit Court with several crimes, including attempted first-degree intentional homicide of Conrad Goehl. McClaren allegedly struck Goehl in the neck with a pick axe during an altercation that, ironically, stemmed from a discussion about anger management.
In a 5-1 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the ruling of Jefferson County Judge Randy R. Koschnick, who had required McClaren to make the pretrial disclosure.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office had asked the Supreme Court for review, applauded the ruling. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has sensibly concluded that Wisconsin law does not permit criminal defendants to surprise the State at trial with evidence that the State has not had a fair opportunity to investigate and that the trial court has not had a necessary opportunity to assess for reliability and admissibility, said Van Hollen.
En route to its decision, the Supreme Court also concluded that requiring defendants to make pretrial disclosure of evidence of violent acts of the victim that the defendant intends to introduce at trial to support a claim of self-defense fully comports with a defendant's constitutional rights to due process and to freedom from compelled self-incrimination.
Today's decision and opinion of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in State v. Jason L. McClaren can be found on the Court's website at:
Former Jefferson County District Attorney David Wambach, who is now an Assistant Attorney General, represented the State in Jefferson County Circuit Court. Assistant Attorney General James M. Freimuth represented the State in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.