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Sentencing court didn’t violate defendant’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination

State v. Marquis D. Walls, 2017AP1600-CR, District 1, 8/14/18 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The court of appeals rejects Walls’s argument that the circuit court violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by pressuring him to admit guilt at sentencing and then used his failure to do so to impose a harsher sentence.

Walls went to trial on charges of armed robbery as party to a crime and attempting to flee or elude an officer. The second offense occurred a few days after the first, when, in an attempt to snare one of the robbery suspects, the robbery victim set up a drug deal with him and then told police the license plate of the car involved in the deal. The plate was registered to Walls, who fled when police tried to stop him. (¶¶5-10).

Walls was acquitted of the robbery but convicted of fleeing. (¶11). At sentencing, Walls said “I do accept my consequences”; further, the sentencing judge asked Walls three times why he fled police, to which Walls responded: 1) “I was scared”; 2) “I have no reason”; and 3) “I have no excuse.” When the judge asked Walls why he was scared, Walls said “I am on supervision” and “I am not supposed to have police contact.” The judge also asked Walls why he went to the drug deal set up by the armed robbery victim; Walls answered “I didn’t know it was a drug deal.” (¶¶13-14).

A defendant has a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination that continues through sentencing, State v. Alexander, 2015 WI 6, ¶24, 360 Wis. 2d 292, 858 N.W.2d 662, so it is improper for a court to consider a defendant’s refusal to admit guilt when determining the sentence. But Walls’s claim that the sentencing court punished him for refusing to admit guilt runs aground because he had already admitted he was guilty of fleeing at the trial and at sentencing. (¶¶23-25). Further, the court of appeals construes the sentencing court’s questions as aiming to obtain information about Walls’s character, not to get him to admit guilt. (¶¶26-31).

¶32     …. Trial counsel argued the trial court should consider Walls’[s] good character as a mitigating factor. The trial court’s asking Walls why he fled was an attempt by the trial court to determine whether Walls was a person of good character. As the trial court stated, until Walls could give it a logical explanation for why he fled, the trial court believed that the reason Walls fled was that he violated the terms of his extended supervision or violated the law. Either violation reflected on his character.

Given that Walls had already admitted guilt and that the sentencing court wasn’t trying to get Walls to admit guilt, it follows that the sentencing court didn’t impose a harsher sentence on Walls for refusing to admit guilt or express remorse. (¶¶34-42).

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