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Wisconsin Fraud, Criminal and White-Collar Criminal Investigation Blog

Decision could change frequency of traffic stops based on taillights

In a previous post, we discussed how the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently made a very important decision concerning the constitutionality of the new hearsay law passed by the legislature back in 2012. As it turns out, this wasn't the only significant decision reached by the court, as it issued another ruling just last week that many legal experts are already saying will transform traditional traffic stops.

The case in question concerns the relatively common tactic used by police departments of performing a traffic stop for defective taillights, only to have it expand into a broader request to search an automobile in an attempt to uncover drugs, guns or other illegal materials.

According to the facts, a Milwaukee man, who was on extended supervision for committing a prior felony, was riding in the passenger seat of his 1977 Buick Electra back on the evening of July 3, 2010. The car, being driven by a designated driver, was eventually pulled over by police for a defective taillight, which was later described by one of the officers on scene as one of three broad light bands on the driver's side being burnt out. A subsequent search of the car soon uncovered a handgun.

GRGB's Dall'Osto Weighs in on SCOTUS Cell Phone Ruling

smartphone2.jpgIn a recent blog, we discussed the ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the legalities of searching a person's cell phone without a warrant. The blog investigated two such cases that were before the court in which a defendant's phone was confiscated without a warrant and content on the phone entered as evidence.

High court finds state's new hearsay law is constitutional

Gavel.jpgIn general, when a person is charged with any sort of felony offense in Wisconsin, they will appear in court at some point for what is known as a preliminary hearing. While a complete description of all this entails is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, this is essentially a legal proceeding, viewed by most as a formality, in which the presiding judge will determine whether the case can continue to trial.

The longstanding rule in Wisconsin concerning preliminary hearings and hearsay, meaning evidence quoting someone who is otherwise unavailable to testify, was that it was inadmissible.

This changed back in 2012, however, when the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a law enabling judges to consider hearsay during preliminary hearings. The rationale for this departure was that allowing hearsay would serve to save crime victims from the potentially distressing experience of testifying, and streamline the process such that multiple witnesses did not have to be called to testify.

Police officer taking four-wheeled approach to community engagement

skateboard.jpgWhen police departments introduce initiatives to increase engagement with the community or improve relations within a particular neighborhood, it typically means officers will spend more time on foot patrols or car patrols, stopping to chat with residents in an attempt to build a rapport.

While these efforts can have mixed results, the Green Bay Police Department has rolled out a new approach to community engagement that has many people talking and perhaps even a bit puzzled at first glance.

As part of a new program designed to enhance community engagement, police officials gave the green light to one officer's request to use a skateboard.

State Supreme Court hands down important decision in OWI case

OWI.jpgThe Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision earlier this week that legal experts say will serve to resolve longstanding confusion over the imposition of mandatory prison sentences for chronic drunk drivers.

The case in question concerns a man arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Monroe County back in 2010 after law enforcement officials determined his blood alcohol content to be 0.248, over three times the legal limit.

The man, who had six prior drunk driving convictions, ultimately pleaded guilty to seventh offense OWI in 2011, requesting probation. The presiding judge, however, indicated that the state laws concerning sentencing for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-OWI convictions were somewhat unclear regarding the period of incarceration that must accompany any bifurcated sentence, meaning one consisting of both prison and extended supervision.

Alderman calls on Milwaukee PD to start enforcing curfew

clock.jpgIt may seem hard to believe, but some of the major retail chains are already busy making preparations for their back to school sales events. Understandably, the thought of buying school supplies in mid-July probably seems repugnant to many teens, all of whom are much too busy enjoying their summer break -- sleeping in, socializing, working and, of course, staying out late.

Interestingly, this last benefit of summer break has recently become the focus of significant attention from Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan who believes it may be behind the city's recent uptick in both petty crime and violent crime.

"A lot of problems in Milwaukee are being caused by juveniles. A lot of crime and disorder, it`s not uncommon to see young people roaming through the streets at night committing acts of vandalism or of crime stealing cars, you name it," he said.

In light of this perceived problem, Donovan is now calling on the Milwaukee Police Department to enforce one of the city's more longstanding laws with greater regularity, saying it will help combat this recent escalation of criminal activity .

Has the state's Rx drug database proven effective?

prescription drugs.jpgState health officials along with law enforcement personnel have recently been focusing their combined resources and efforts on combating the growing problem of heroin abuse here in Wisconsin. While this is certainly a laudable -- and necessary -- effort, some experts say they may perhaps be overlooking and underestimating the continued danger posed by prescription drugs.

A brief glance at some statistics would seem to support this position concerning highly addictive opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet:

  • The State Department of Health Services determined that 324 people died from prescription drugs in 2012 alone, while the number of people whose deaths can be linked to prescription opioids between 2006 and 2012 ranged from 297 to 329.
  • All but six counties in Wisconsin have reported at least one death attributable to opioids from 2006 to 2012, with the highest fatality rates (roughly 7 per 10,000 people) in Milwaukee County and Kenosha County.
  • The State Crime Lab has seen opioid-related cases jump from just 170 in 2004 to a shocking 640 in 2013.

SCOTUS says no to warrantless searches of cell phones

smartphone2.jpgBack in January, our blog discussed how the Supreme Court of the United States had agreed to hear two criminal cases examining whether law enforcement officials must secure a warrant before conducting a cell phone search of a person placed under arrest, an issue that has long divided courts.

To recap, the cases, which produced drastically different results, were as follows:

  • In U.S. v. Wurie, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston held that evidence gathered by police during a warrantless search of a suspect's outdated flip-style cell phone that ultimately lead to his arrest on various criminal charges should be suppressed. 
  • In Riley v. California, the California Supreme Court ruled against suppressing evidence acquired via a search of a suspect's smart phone linking him to both gang-related activity and a shooting.

In a historic decision with profound implications for both digital privacy rights and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the court held just last week that the answer is simple regarding police searches of cell phones: "Get a warrant."

City selling vacant lots on city's north side for $1

For-Sale-Sign.jpgMost people might not realize it, but the City of Milwaukee has actually come into possession of a considerable number of residential lots thanks to foreclosures and/or unpaid taxes. In fact, roughly 2,700 of these properties consist of little more than vacant lots, as the city was forced to demolish the homes standing upon them due to the illegal activities taking place inside them or their general state of disrepair.

While you wouldn't imagine that possessing these vacant lots would cost the city very much, this is far from the case as the city has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them properly maintained.

In recognition of this costly expenditure and a desire to help build crime-free neighborhoods, the city has launched a pilot program designed to essentially give these vacant properties back to their communities.

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