Domestic Violence Affects All of Us
As a former prosecutor, and now as attorney general, I have seen how abuse and the fear of abuse can take a physical, emotional, and psychological toll on families, and this October, as a state, we must recognize how this violence affects all of us.
Domestic violence affects people of both genders. It is estimated that one in three women, and one in four men, will experience violence from their partners in their lifetime.
Domestic violence affects victims of all ages. In 2016, the oldest victim of a domestic violence homicide was 72 years old. National estimates show that one million Americans ages 60 and older are abused each year, but only one in 14 cases are reported.
Domestic violence knows no boundaries, and affects more than just those in the relationship. Statistics show responding to a domestic dispute can be the most deadly call to service for law enforcement, and domestic violence can often spill out of the home and affect the surrounding community. Unfortunately, the shooting in the Wausau area this spring gives us an all too perfect example of what this looks like, as a domestic dispute left four dead – a wife’s two coworkers and lawyer, and a law enforcement officer.
Tragically, a domestic violence incident ending in death is not uncommon. In 2016, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin reports that 73 individuals died as a result domestic violence in Wisconsin.
While this information can seem dire, support is available to those who seek it.
Drug Take Back Day is October 28
Mark your calendar! Saturday, October 28 is the next statewide Drug Take Back Day!
Drug Take Back Day provides the community with a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposal. Bring your unused, expired, and excess prescription drugs to a participating drug take back location, which can be found by visiting: www.doseofrealitywi.gov.
All Prescription (controlled and non-controlled) and over-the-counter medications, ointments, patches, non-aerosol sprays, inhalers, creams, vials and pet medications are welcome!
Please leave illegal drugs, needles/sharps, aerosol cans, bio-hazardous materials, personal care products, household hazardous waste, and mercury thermometers at home.
To find a drug take-back location near you, or for more information on prescription drug abuse, please visit: www.doseofrealitywi.gov
New Website Keeps Public Informed of Sexual Assault Kit Testing Progress
DOJ has launched a website dedicated to keeping the public up to date on Wisconsin’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (WiSAKI).
Unsubmitted sexual assault kits accumulated over twenty years and were largely unaddressed by previous attorneys general. Now, in less than three years, DOJ and local law enforcement will process all previously unsubmitted kits and bring justice to sexual assault survivors after years of delay under previous administrations. Testing the kits is only the beginning of this important process and with this website, survivors, the entire Wisconsin criminal justice system, and the public will be able to see this progress in action from testing of kits to prosecuting criminals.
The website, wisaki.doj.wi.gov, includes an overview of the project, frequently asked questions, data and results, resources, regular updates on how many kits have been tested, and other news about WiSAKI and the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Response Team (AG SART).
WiSAKI is a statewide effort to address the issues surrounding unsubmitted sexual assault kits in the possession of local law enforcement agencies and hospitals in Wisconsin. Initiated by the AG SART and led by DOJ, WiSAKI is a collaborative effort among law enforcement, victim advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners, prosecutors, health care systems, and the WSCL. WiSAKI supports survivors of sexual assault, protects the community, and holds offenders accountable using a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach.
Any survivor who had a sexual assault kit collected and does not know if their kit was tested for the presence of DNA evidence can call 1-800-446-6564 or go to ByYourSideWI.org to initiate the process of locating their kits and exploring options for DNA testing. Survivors will also be connected with support services.
Ask the Office of Open Government: Governmental Bodies Violating Open Meetings Law
Question: What can I do if I believe a governmental body violated the open meetings law?
Answer: Under the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, there are several options available when an individual believes a governmental body has violated the law. The attorney general and the district attorneys have authority to enforce the law. Generally, the Attorney General may elect to prosecute complaints involving novel issues of law that coincide with matters of statewide concern.
More frequently, the district attorney of the county where the alleged violation occurred may enforce the law. However, in order to have this authority, an individual must file a verified complaint with the district attorney. The verified complaint must be signed by the individual and notarized and should include available information that will be helpful to investigators. Helpful information includes the name of the governmental body, the names of the body’s members who are alleged to have violated the law, a description of the factual circumstances of the alleged violations, the names of witnesses, and any relevant documentary evidence.
The law does not require a district attorney (or the attorney general) to commence an enforcement action upon receipt of a written request to do so. A district attorney has broad discretion to decide whether to bring an action for enforcement. The open records law takes into account the fact that the Attorney General or district attorneys may not always commence actions for enforcement and provides individuals with the option of commencing their own action.
If the district attorney refuses or otherwise fails to commence an action to enforce the Open Meetings Law within 20 days after receiving the verified complaint, the individual may bring an action in the name of the state. (Please note, a district attorney may still commence an enforcement action even after 20 days have passed.) Such actions by an individual must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues.
An individual who is interested in bringing an action in the name of the state may wish to consult with an attorney. The Department of Justice’s Office of Open Government webpage provides additional information, including the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide, which has an open meetings law complaint template in its appendix.
October Oral Arguments at United States Supreme Court
Gill v. Whitford
A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck down Wisconsin's voting districts, statewide, as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This was the first time in decades that any court, anywhere in the country, had found an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Supreme Court of the United States stayed the district court's decision pending appeal.
The state argues 1) that the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge an entire statewide redistricting plan, 2) that there is no judicially manageable standard for differentiating an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" from the normal politics of the redistricting process, and 3) that the district court adopted its own, muddled standard without allowing the parties to properly litigate it.
This case was argued by Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin.
October Oral Arguments in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
Garner v. Muenchow
In the case of Garner v. Muenchow, an inmate in the Wisconsin prison system brought a civil rights case against certain correctional officials, alleging violations of his First Amendment right to religious accommodation, and his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. While in segregation, Garner claims he was unable to get a vendor catalog from which to order certain religious property and that he was denied catalogs and a Quran based on his Islamic faith. The state defendants were granted summary judgment by the district court, and Garner has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The state argues that it has no constitutional obligation to ensure access to vendor catalogs, and Garner has not presented sufficient evidence of intent to discriminate. The case will be argued by Assistant Attorney General Abigail Potts.
October Oral Arguments at Wisconsin Supreme Court
Bell was charged with sexually assaulting two teenage sisters several weeks apart. The defense theory shaped from voir dire through closing argument was that the victims are compulsive liars who falsely accused Bell of sexual assault for reasons unknown. The issues relate primarily to the prosecutor’s closing argument and the effectiveness of trial counsel’s response to it. Bell argues his attorney was ineffective because he didn't move for mistrial, object to some of the prosecutor’s arguments, and for not redacting a statement made by a victim.
The court of appeals held that there was no basis for counsel to object or move for a mistrial because the prosecutor’s arguments, in the context of how this case was tried, were not improper. It also held that Bell did not prove prejudice caused by counsel’s failure to have redacted the victim’s statement. The oral argument is Monday, October 23, 2017 and will be argued by Assistant Attorney General Daniel O’Brien.
The petitioner, Anton R. Dorsey, was convicted of misdemeanor battery, disorderly conduct, and aggravated battery for physically assaulting his girlfriend, C.B., on two separate occasions. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the jury should not have heard other-acts evidence about similar abuse of his former girlfriend, R.K. He seeks review of the court of appeals’ decision affirming his conviction and argues that the other-acts evidence was improperly admitted because it was admitted for an improper purpose and because it was not relevant to the issue of intent. The supreme court will need to address what effect Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2)(b)1. has on a circuit court’s determination to admit or exclude other-acts evidence. That subparagraph, new in 2014, is specific to the admission of other-acts evidence in sensitive crimes, like domestic abuse.
The state is arguing that the supreme court should conclude that statute has a plain language interpretation that permits the use other-acts evidence of the accused in a criminal proceeding alleging a specified crime so long as the other act is similar to the charged conduct, and without regard to who was victimized. Or, alternatively, the statute permits a greater latitude of proof in establishing that other-acts evidence is admissible, and thus provides for the more liberal admission of that evidence. Under either interpretation, and in any event, the circuit court did not err when it concluded that R.K.’s testimony was relevant and admissible other-acts evidence. Thus, Dorsey’s conviction should be affirmed. The oral argument is Monday, October 23, 2017 and will be argued by Assistant Attorney General Tiffany Winter.
Shannon O. Hendricks, originally charged with second degree sexual assault of a child under 16 years-old, pled guilty to an amended charge of child enticement. The circuit court addressed Hendricks at plea hearing, and explained the elements of child enticement and asked Hendricks if he understood he was admitting guilt to that crime. Hendricks said he understood. After his sentencing, Hendricks moved to withdraw his plea, claiming his plea was involuntary because the circuit court did not define sexual contact. According to Hendricks, the circuit court should have defined sexual contact because statute requires the court to explain the “nature of the charge” to a defendant.
The state argues that the “nature of the charge” means the elements of the crime and a previous Wisconsin Supreme Court case held that sexual contact was not an element of the crime – the intent or purpose to have sexual contact was the element. The state also argues that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should adopt the same approach as the United States Supreme Court, which has held that if the defendant’s attorney states on the record that he or she explained the elements of the crime to the defendant, the court can rely on that statement to determine that a defendant understands the “nature of the charge.” This case was argued by Assistant Attorney General Warren Weinstein.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will consider whether the trial court violated Michael Washington’s statutory right to be present at trial when it held a trial in his absence after Washington had an outburst on the morning of trial, necessitating his removal from the courtroom. After his outburst, Washington refused all subsequent invitations to return to his trial. Washington, in seeking a new trial, relied on Wis. Stat. § 971.04(3), which provides that “[i]f a defendant is present at the beginning of trial and thereafter, during the progress of the trial . . . , voluntarily absents himself or herself from the presence of the court without leave of the court,” the trial shall continue as if the defendant were present. In Washington’s view, that subsection creates an unwaivable right for a defendant to be present at trial up to the point when the jury is sworn. Washington argues that the trial court erred in continuing the proceedings and commencing the trial after his outburst because Washington was not present at the beginning of trial when the jury was sworn.
The state disagrees with Washington’s reading of statute. Rather than creating an unwaivable right to presence, that subsection merely creates an exception to the rule that a defendant cannot forfeit, by his mere absence, his right to be present in criminal proceedings. Because it is well-established that a defendant can waive, either expressly or by the conduct Washington engaged in, the right to be present at any stage of criminal proceedings, subsection (3) is inapplicable to Washington.
The supreme court will decide whether subsection (3) addresses waiver or forfeiture. If warranted, it may also consider whether any error was harmless under the circumstances, given the nature of the trial and the trial court’s efforts minimize any prejudice or disadvantage to Washington that his absence could have caused. This case was argued by Assistant Attorney General Sarah Burgundy.
Want this update sent straight to your email inbox? To receive these monthly updates, subscribe.