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  • WisBar News
    August 12, 2013

    Wisconsin Supreme Court Issues 98 Opinions in 2012-13 Term

    Aug. 12, 2013 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court largely wrapped up its 2012-13 term, issuing 31 opinions in July. In total, the court issued 98 opinions this term. This article highlights some of the major decisions of the term, both criminal and civil.

    Each new term begins on Sept. 1. Many of the court’s major decisions are released in July every year, with an occasional disciplinary opinion released in August.

    This term, which began on Sept. 1, 2012, the state’s high court has released opinions in 31 civil cases, 25 criminal cases, and 42 attorney disciplinary cases. In the 2011-12 term, the court issued opinions in 42 civil cases, 20 criminal cases, and 40 disciplinary cases.

    Of the 758 petitions for review that were filed this term, the court has accepted review in 49 cases. About 390 petitions for review are still pending. The court, which has discretion to hear cases, also granted two bypass petitions and nine certifications.

    Below are some of the major decisions of the term – as reported by the State Bar of Wisconsin – based on type of case, with a link to the State Bar article on the decision.

    Criminal Cases 

    Twelve years after his conviction for armed robbery, Brian Avery argued that a digitally-enhanced video of the crime showed he was too tall to be the robber. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Avery would not get a new trial. State v. Avery, 2013 WI 13.

    A Wisconsin Supreme Court majority (4-3) ruled that police acted under a “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Thus, the court upheld the warrantless search of Juan Gracia’s home and bedroom, which led to an arrest for drunk driving. State v. Gracia, 2013 WI 15.

    Police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they seized James Brereton’s car and placed a Global Positioning System (GPS) device inside the hood to track the car’s movements in real time, the majority ruled. State v. Brereton, 2013 WI 17.

    A prison inmate whose phone scam defrauded AT&T out of $28,000 recently lost his appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled that Matthew Steffes conspired to steal “electricity.” State v. Steffes, 2013 WI 53.

    It was legal for police to enter Kenneth Sobczak’s home without a warrant to search and seize his computer when he wasn’t home because his girlfriend was a weekend guest and consented to the search, the supreme court ruled. State v. Sobczak, 2013 WI 52

    In a case involving the death of an 11-year-old girl whose parents treated her illness with religious prayer, the state supreme court clarified the “prayer treatment exception” while upholding convictions for reckless homicide. State v. Neumann, 2013 WI 58.

    The majority adopted a rule – first announced in Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010) – that shield a suspect from police questioning for 14 days if the suspect invokes a right to counsel before his or her release from custody. State v. Edler, 2013 WI 73.

    Civil Cases 

    A Wisconsin Supreme Court majority ruled that a county must hand over unredacted copies of legal bills to a newspaper under the state’s public records law. Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County, 2013 WI 4.

    An insurance company argued that its policy did not cover accidents with rental cars. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that interpreting the policy this way would lead to absurd results. Bethke v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 2013 WI 16

    Traditional surrogacy agreements are enforceable in Wisconsin and bind surrogate-biological mothers who sign such contracts but later change their minds about giving up the baby, the supreme court concluded. Rosecky v. Schissel, 2013 WI 66.

    Hosting an underage drinking party got riskier, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover the injuries sustained by a guest who was assaulted by another guest at a party. Schinner v. Gundrum, 2013 WI 71.

    Circuit courts can still void marriages after one spouse dies, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled, meaning a petitioner can challenge a surviving spouse’s share of an estate on the grounds that the marriage should be voided. McLeod v. Mudlaff, 2013 WI 76.

    In a case involving Milwaukee’s Deep Tunnel and the Boston Store buildings, a majority ruled that municipal entities “may be subjected to claims for equitable relief to abate a negligently maintained nuisance,” despite a state law that limits damages against government actors to $50,000 per claimant. Bostco LLC v. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, 2013 WI 78.  

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