The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently considered a number of petitions for review and voted to accept six new cases. (As I said before, I am planning to write here whenever the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepts new cases. This is the second of that series.)
The cases accepted today include three criminal cases and three civil cases. This post describes only the three criminal cases. I’ll blog next about the civil cases.
Probably the most interesting of the three criminal cases is State v. Welda, 2007AP2024-CR. State v. Welda presents questions of interpretation and constitutionality of Wisconsin’s disorderly conduct crime and hate crime enhancer penalty. The underlying charges stem from incidents in which three Janesville residents used offensive racial epithets against a number of African-American residents, including two children. State v. Welda, 2008 WI App U 135, ¶ 2-5. When police arrived at the scene, 10-15 residents had gathered in the area of the disturbance. Id. ¶ 2. In addition to describing their African-American neighbors with inflammatory racial epithets, one of the Defendants also waved a Confederate flag during the incident, and two of the Defendants continued to speak the racial epithets after police directed them not to stop. Id. ¶ 3-5. Continue reading “Wisconsin Supreme Court Accepts Six New Cases, Will Consider Constitutionality of Hate-Crime Penalty Enhancer”
Beginning with this post, I will report here when the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepts new cases for review. I invite your comments.
Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted to accept State v. Hoppe for review. The issue presented, according the court’s press release, is “the extent to which a judge may rely on the contents of a plea questionnaire and waiver of rights form” in lieu of questioning the defendant on the record. Continue reading “Wisconsin Supreme Court Accepts State v. Hoppe for Review, on Plea Colloquy Issues”
Last Friday, a Brooklyn mother was convicted of manslaughter in an infamous case that has, once again, led to soul-searching and overhaul of New York City’s child welfare system. What is remarkable about this case is that the mother never struck a single blow; rather, her 7-year-old daughter was beaten to death by her stepfather. Seven months ago, the stepfather was similarly convicted, and he is currently serving 26 1/3 to 29 years in prison. Ironically, the mother could end up serving much more time than that, because she was also convicted of assault, unlawful imprisonment, and endangering the welfare of a child.
As any child advocate will tell you, the facts of cases such as this one are horrifyingly familiar: brutal beatings and sadistic tortures by one adult (in this case, the little girl was tied to chairs, held under cold water, and forced to use a litter box instead of a toilet), chilling acquiescence by another adult, and mistake after mistake by whatever public agency is supposed to prevent this kind of thing by early intervention into suspicious circumstances. Nearly two decades ago another notorious New York case, which involved the beating death of another little girl, triggered a national discussion about accountability and responsibility on the part of the “passive” parent. In that case, 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg was beaten unconscious by Joel Steinberg (who had illegally adopted her) while Steinberg’s partner, Hedda Nussbaum (pictured above), was in the next room. Steinberg left the apartment for three hours, leaving the girl unconscious, and Hedda did not call for help until the next morning, when the child stopped breathing. In the Steinberg case, though, Joel was convicted of the killing while all charges were ultimately dropped against Hedda.
Why the difference in outcomes? Continue reading “The Culpability of Passive Abuse”
The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, a manual for policymakers that describes numerous best practices for addressing disparities. This publication should be of particular interest in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, which have some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the nation. As The Sentencing Project described in a May publication, blacks in Milwaukee are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, the second-highest such disparity among the forty-three major American cities analyzed. Similarly, a state-level analysis by Human Rights Watch determined that blacks in Wisconsin are forty-two times more likely than whites to receive a prison term for a drug conviction, the highest such disparity among the thirty-four states studied.
Of course, to say that there are racial disparities is not to say the disparities are necessarily unwarranted. For instance, if it turned out that blacks committed serious drug crimes more frequently than whites, then at least some of statistical disparities might be warranted. Still, the magnitude of the racial disparities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is so high, particularly in comparison to national norms, that there is good reason to believe we do indeed have a serious problem.
In a fascinating case decided this week, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the suppression of a video recording apparently showing a husband having sexual intercourse with his wife, a stroke victim who was unconscious and lived in a nursing home. See State v. Johnson (Appeal No. 2007AP1485-CR, 9/11/2008). The husband was charged with second degree sexual assault, a class C felony, which can result in imprisonment up to 40 years. The offense occurs when a defendant “has sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who the defendant knows is unconscious.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(2)(d). The statute further provides that “A defendant shall not be presumed to be incapable of violating this section because of marriage to the complainant.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(6). Continue reading “Privacy Interests in Extremis”