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Wisconsin Fraud, Criminal and White-Collar Criminal Investigation Blog

WI high court makes reaches surprising decisions in cellphone cases

Over the last few posts, we've explored several recent decisions handed down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In keeping with this theme, today's post will discuss the decisions reached in a pair of cases examining the ability of law enforcement officials to track people's whereabouts using their cellphones, a topic that has understandably generated significant debate over the last year thanks to revelations concerning the National Security Agency.

While most people might not realize it, their cellphones can serve as a makeshift tracker enabling both cellphone providers and law enforcement officials to monitor their whereabouts in real-time.

In the two cases before the state Supreme Court, the issue explored was whether it violates a person's constitutional rights against unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment when law enforcement accesses this otherwise private location tracking data without securing a warrant.

State Supreme Court examines window knocks and Fourth Amendment

In an opinion published last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court examined the legally significant issue as to whether a law enforcement official knocking on a person's car window can violate their constitutional right against unreasonable seizures under the Fourth Amendment.

According to the facts of the case, a man was out driving in Cassville at around 1 a.m. on Christmas Day 2011, when he pulled over in a public boat landing. Shortly thereafter, a deputy with the Grant County Sheriff's Department noticed the car and decided to investigate further given the time and the holiday season.

The deputy proceeded to knock on the man's car window, motioning for him to roll it down. The man complied and the deputy immediately noticed that the man bore certain signs of intoxication, including slurred speech and an odor of alcohol. The man subsequently failed the field sobriety test and his blood alcohol content was measured to be over twice the legal limit.

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.
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