Wisconsin Court Severs Criminal Charge That Could Result in Unfair Prejudice in Unregistered Sex Offender Case

By Reddin & Singer

Justice

Sometimes, criminal charges may result in more than one trial in order to avoid potential prejudice. In United States v. Williams, a Wisconsin man was arrested and charged with failing to register as a sex offender pursuant to the requirements enumerated in the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA“), attempting to entice a minor child to engage in prohibited sexual acts, possession of marijuana, and committing a felony involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender. Following the man’s not guilty plea, he asked the district court to sever the first two counts against him from each other. According to the man, the two criminal counts were unrelated, and trying them together would deny him his right to a fair trial.

In reviewing the man’s motion, the Eastern District of Wisconsin first stated two offenses that are based on the same transaction and similar in character may be charged in the same indictment under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(a). Next, the court said Rule 14(a) provides that properly joined offenses may be tried separately if a court finds trying them together would result in unfair prejudice to either the defense or the prosecution. Still, severance is not required where evidence of the severed criminal counts would be admissible in a trial on the remaining allegations.

After that, the federal court turned to the facts of the case at hand. According to the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the purported SORNA violation and the child enticement allegation were not “of the same or similar character” because one allegation was a failure to comply with a registration requirement while the other was a “status offense.” The court also stated although the two counts were both sex offenses, the failure to register violation the man was accused of was a step removed from the underlying criminal offense that caused the registration requirement.

Additionally, the court held that the two acts did not result from the same transaction because the United States failed to show how commission of the two offenses overlapped. As a result, the court held the two charges were not properly joined. Additionally, the Wisconsin federal court found that separate trials were merited because trying the two counts at issue together would result in substantial risk of prejudice to the defendant. The court added that the man’s alleged failure to register was not relevant to whether he attempted to entice a child to engage in unlawful sex acts.

Since the evidence required to prove the first two criminal counts filed against the defendant did not overlap, and trying the two alleged violations together would likely prejudice a jury, the Eastern District of Wisconsin granted the man’s motion and severed the SORNA count from the remaining criminal case against him.

If you were charged with a sex crime in Milwaukee, you should contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP through our website or give us a call at (414) 271-6400 today. Our hardworking lawyers may also be reached via our phone number (414) 271-6400.

Additional Resources

United States v. Williams, Dist. Court, ED Wisconsin 2015

Photo Credit: JessicaGale, MorgueFile