Wisconsin State Public Defender

The Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office (SPD) has been providing "justice for all" since 1977, and is an independent, executive-branch state agency that ensures Wisconsin meets its constitutional requirement of providing legal representation to the indigent.

The mission of the Wisconsin State Public Defender is to zealously represent clients, protect constitutional rights, and advocate for an effective and fair criminal justice system.  Our commitment is to treat our clients with dignity and compassion.  Vision statement:  The Wisconsin State Public Defender Office will lead the way in protecting justice for all.

The agency provides legal representation to the indigent throughout the state in all of Wisconsin's 72 counties.  Organizationally, the SPD has 37 local trial offices, 2 appellate offices and a central administrative office.  The agency utilizes staff attorneys as well as contract private attorneys (to handle conflict and overflow cases).

The SPD's website provides resources to clients and potential clients, private attorneys who are certified to take SPD case appointments, individuals involved in the criminal justice system, and the public interested in the state agency that delivers on Wisconsin's constitutional requirement regarding indigent defense.

SPD Main Telephone number: 608-266-0087

Wisconsin State Public Defender Blogs

Latest from Wisconsin State Public Defender

State v. Mitchell D. Green, 2021AP267-CR, petition for review of an unpublished COA opinion granted 6/22/22; case activity (including briefs)
Question presented (from the State’s PFR):

Did the circuit court erroneously exercise its discretion when it concluded that there was a manifest necessity for a mistrial after Green introduced unnoticed third-party perpetrator evidence at trial via the testimony of a witness who claimed to have committed the crime but was unrepresented by counsel?

The State charged Green with
Continue Reading SCOW to review whether the admission of admissible evidence warrants a mistrial

Sauk County v. S.A.M., 2022 WI 46, reversing an unpublished court of appeals opinion, 2019AP1033; case activity
Unlike other states, Wisconsin appellate courts have for decades dismissed most appeals from expired ch. 51 orders as moot. As a result, there was been little appellate review of circuit court decisions declaring people mentally ill, committing them to government custody, and medicating them against their will. Not any more. In a 4-3 decision, SCOW holds that appeals from expired
Continue Reading SCOW: Appeals from expired ch. 51 commitment orders are not moot

State v. Donald P. Coughlin, 2019AP1876-CR, 2022 WI 43, reversing an unpublished court of appeals opinion; case activity (including briefs)
How should an appellate court measure the sufficiency of the evidence to support a jury verdict where the instructions and the special verdict define the crime differently? In a 5-1 opinion, the majority held, based on the facts of this particular case, that the jury instructions should control. It then considered whether the evidence of child sexual
Continue Reading SCOW finds sufficient evidence to reinstate 15 child sexual assault convictions

State v. Ryan Hugh Mulhern, 2022 WI 42, 6/21/22, reversing a per curiam court of appeals decision, 2019AP1565, case activity (including briefs)
When we posted on SCOW’s grant of review of the non-citable court of appeals decision in this case, we imagined the court might accept the state’s invitation to change the scope of the rape shield law and hold the evidence at issue here–testimony proffered by the state that a complaining witness had not engaged in
Continue Reading SCOW reaffirms that rape shield law excludes evidence of lack of sexual conduct

State v. Ricky Rodriguez, 2021AP2053-Cr, 6/14/22, District 4, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)
Rodriguez was convicted of two misdemeanors and placed on probation in early 2017. a few months later, he committed two felonies and was sentenced to prison. His probation for the misdemeanors was revoked, and he was sentenced to 9 months in jail consecutive to any other sentence. In his pro se appeal, he argued that his sentence after revocation cannot, as
Continue Reading Sentence after probation revocation may run consecutive to other sentences

State v. Smolarek, 6/16/22, District 4, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Smolarek was involved in a motorcycle accident. After allegedly admitting that he had smoked marijuana much earlier that day, an officer arrested him. A blood test showed that he had been driving under the influence of THC. Smolarek moved to suppress arguing that the officer got his story wrong. He admitted that he had smoked marijuana after the accident. So the officer lacked
Continue Reading COA Rejects Defendant’s Changed Story, Affirms Probable Cause for OWI

Denezpi v. United States, No. 20-7622, 2022 WL 2111348, June 13, 2022, affirming U.S. v. Denezpi, 979 F.3d 777 (10th Cir. 2020); Scotusblog page (including briefs and commentary)
Denezpi was prosecuted in the Court of Indian Offenses, a creature of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that provides a criminal court system for those (relatively few) tribes that haven’t set up their own. After serving a 140-day sentence in that prosecution, he was charged for and convicted of
Continue Reading SCOTUS: Successive prosecution in federal court after prosecution by Court of Indian Offenses didn’t violate Double Jeopardy Clause

Then listen to yesterday’s WPR interview with ACLU staff attorney Tim Muth about the continued horrible conditions there. They have severe staffing shortages–a 40% shortage of guards, 50% shortage of teachers, and 67% shortage of social workers.  Youth are spending 20 or 21 hours per day in their cells. Wasn’t Lincoln Hills supposed to be closed by now? Yes, but it isn’t. In fact, more youth are being sent there.
Continue Reading Got a client at or heading to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake?

State C. Catti J. Meisenhelder, 2021AP708-CR, 6/15/22, District 2 (recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)
Meisenhelder was busted for shoplifting mouthwash and eyeliner at a Walmart. When police searched her purse they spotted a keychain that had a small, purple vial attached to it. They looked inside, found what looked like meth, and arrested her. She moved to suppress arguing that the search was unlawful under State v. Sutton, 2012 WI App 7, 338 Wis. 2d 338,
Continue Reading COA approves search of vial incident to arrest for shoplifting

Derrick A. Sanders v. State of Wisconsin Claims Board, 2021AP373, District 4, 6/9/22 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)
This lengthy, unpublished decision doesn’t bear directly on issues arising in day-to-day criminal litigation, but we note it here because its topic—compensation from the state to wrongly convicted innocent persons—may be of interest.
Under § 775.05(4), when the State Claims Board finds that a person seeking compensation for being wrongly convicted is indeed innocent, it must
Continue Reading State Claims Board must analyze and make findings regarding innocent person’s request for additional compensation

Last week SCOTUS issued Kemp v. United States construing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1). That rule allows a party to seek relief based on “mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect” within one year of the date on which a judgment becomes final. Wisconsin’s analog is §806.07.  The issue in Kemp was whether the term “mistake” means mistakes by parties or whether it includes mistakes by judges. In a 7-1 decision SCOTUS held that it includes legal mistakes
Continue Reading Rule allowing relief from judgment based on “mistake” includes legal mistakes by judges

State v. Valiant M. Green, 2022 WI 41, affirming a court of appeals summary disposition, 2019AP2150-CR, case activity (including briefs)
Does an affidavit supporting a warrant for a blood draw state probable cause where it alleges that the defendant “drove or operated a motor vehicle at driveway of [residential address]” and that the defendant “admitted to drinking alcohol at the house?” Writing for the majority, Justice Hagedorn answers “yes.”  Justice A. W. Bradley, the sole dissenter, says
Continue Reading SCOW okays blood draw warrant for driver who drove drunk at his driveway

State v. Kimberly L. Howell, 2021AP1865-CR, 6/8/22, District 2 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)
Howell served as guardian for five children, four of whom were her grandkids. The fifth, 11 year old S.G., has special needs.  Howell pled no contest to child neglect and domestic abuse due to her mistreatment of S.G. The circuit court gave her two years of probation during which she could not serve as a guardian for any child, including
Continue Reading COA approves probation condition prohibiting defendant from serving as a guardian

County v. Buffalo v. Kevin J. Rich, 2020AP1526, 6/7/22, District 3 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The court of appeals rejected all three of Rich’s challenges to his OWI 1st conviction. It held that the deputy did have reasonable suspicion to stop Rich’s jeep and to expand the stop to require field sobriety tests. It also held that even though Rich gave six breath samples, he consented to and completed just one breath test.
Continue Reading COA affirms OWI 1st; Rejects Challenges to Traffic Stop, FSTs, and Consent

State v. Q.S., 2022AP420-421, 6/14/22, District 1, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity
This appeal concerns whether the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion when it it held that the termination of Q.S.’s parental rights to his three children was in their best interests.  The court of appeals held that the circuit court applied all of §48.426(3)‘s “best interests of the child” factors. Q.S. simply didn’t like how heavily the circuit court weighed unfavorable evidence. 
In
Continue Reading Circuit court applied “best interests of the child” factors appropriately

State v. Rebecca Sue Ferraro, 2021AP1654-CR, District 2, 6/8/22 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)
Ferraro pled to and was sentenced for OWI, third offense, before the blood alcohol test result of her blood draw was available. At sentencing the preliminary breath test result was bandied about as one of the aggravating factors. A few days after sentencing, the BAC result arrived. Turns out it was lower than the PBT. That is not a new
Continue Reading Lower BAC result wasn’t a new factor meriting sentencing modification