Wisconsin Appellate Court Dismisses Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims in Sex Crimes Case

By Reddin & Singer

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In an unpublished opinion, a Wisconsin man was charged with sexually assaulting a child in 2012 after the girl reported inappropriate touching to local police. During a January 2013 jury trial, the purported victim recanted her story and testified that the man did not assault her. Despite this, the alleged victim’s older sibling offered testimony that the girl revealed the assaults to her after they occurred. The sibling also testified that the girl’s demeanor changed on the dates of the supposed assaults.

At trial, jurors were shown videotaped police interviews with the child that were conducted immediately after she reported the sexual assaults. At the close of evidence, jurors convicted the man on four counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child. The man next filed a motion for postconviction relief with the trial court.

In his motion, the convicted man accused his lawyer of providing him with ineffective legal assistance. According to the man, his attorney should have objected to portions of the evidence introduced at trial, requested a unanimity jury instruction, and challenged the prosecution’s expert witness. After examining the strategy behind the attorney’s decisions, revealed during a Machner hearing that was held to address the man’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the circuit court denied the convicted man’s motion.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II, the man claimed his counsel should have objected to the prosecution’s decision to amend the information in the indictment and add additional criminal counts. Additionally, the man again argued his lawyer should have requested a jury instruction regarding unanimity and objected to certain evidence offered at trial. The convicted man also stated his lawyer failed to protect his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Finally, the convicted man asserted that the trial court committed error when it impermissibly excluded testimony at his Machner hearing.

The Second District of Wisconsin first stated the man’s claims regarding the amended criminal counts filed against him were waived because the man failed to object at the time. The court then said a defendant is required to demonstrate that his or her attorney’s legal representation was prejudicial or deficient in order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. According to the appeals court, the attorney’s conduct must generally be reasonable based on the facts known at the time. Ineffective assistance occurs when counsel’s purported errors deprive a defendant of a fair trial and result in prejudice.

Next, the court examined the record in the sex crimes case. The court stated a unanimity instruction was not merited based on the facts of the case. After that, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II District of Wisconsin held that the man’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims failed. The court said the convicted man was not prejudiced by the evidence admitted at trial, nor did his attorney fail to protect his right to a speedy trial. Similarly, the court ruled that testimony provided by the prosecution’s expert was properly admitted at trial. Finally, the appellate court stated the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it limited the evidence that was presented at the man’s Machner hearing.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II affirmed the circuit court’s judgment and order.

If you were accused of committing a sex crime in Milwaukee, you are advised to discuss your rights with a seasoned criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. To speak with a hardworking Wisconsin lawyer today, contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP through our website or call us at (414) 271-6400.

Additional Resources

State v. Dennis, Wis: Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2015

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