In January of this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the defendant’s conviction for stalking in State v. Warbelton, 2009 WI 6, 759 N.W.2d 557. In doing so, the court held that a defendant in a stalking case cannot prevent the State from submitting evidence of the existence of the defendant’s prior violent felony conviction, an element of the crime, by stipulating to the conviction before trial.
Stipulations to prior convictions became a powerful tool for defense attorneys in Wisconsin following State v. McAllister, 153 Wis. 2d 523, 451 N.W.2d 764 (Ct. App. 1989). A precursor to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Old Chief v. United States, the McAllister court held that the State could not submit evidence of the details of the defendant’s prior felony conviction if the defendant offered to stipulate to that element before trial. The court concluded that the details of the conviction were no longer relevant once the defendant stipulated to it. The State could satisfy the element by submitting a certified record of the defendant’s conviction to the jury.
The court in State v. Alexander addressed the derivative question left by McAllister: may the defendant completely prevent the jury from considering the prior conviction element by stipulating to the prior conviction before trial?