Follow Us

Facebooktwitterrss
≡ Menu

SVP – Supervised Release Determination, Standard of Review on Appeal

State v. Richard A. Brown, 2005 WI 29, reversing 2004 WI App 33, 269 Wis. 2d 750, 767 N.W.2d 555
For Brown: Steven P. Weiss, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue/Holding:

¶8. The issue presented by the parties in the instant case is whether a circuit court’s denial of a chapter 980 petition for supervised release should be classified as a determination of a question of law or as an exercise of circuit court discretion. ……

¶38. We next look to State v. Curiel, 227 Wis. 2d 389, 597 N.W.2d 697 (1999), a chapter 980 case, for the sufficiency of evidence standard of review. …

¶42 … [T]he Curiel standard of independent review of the circuit court’s decision on the basis of the sufficiency of evidence, rather than a review for erroneous exercise of discretion, is appropriate in the instant case.

¶44. The sufficiency of evidence standard of independent appellate review gives deference to the circuit court’s strength in determining the credibility of witnesses and in evaluating the evidence and recognizes the evaluative aspects involved in a circuit court’s denial of a petition for supervised release. Circuit courts are better able than appellate courts to determine the credibility of witnesses and evaluate the evidence. In making a determination about the sufficiency of evidence, a reviewing court may draw not only on a circuit court’s observational advantage, but also on the circuit court’s reasoning.

The lesson of this case probably reduces to the following formulation: Context, which is to say statutory text and legislative intent, matters; the statute in this instance places a burden of proof on the State, and whether or not a litigant has met its burden of proof is reviewed paradigmatically as a question of law rather than discretion, ¶29. So it is here. Along the way, the court suggests that when the statute imposes on the circuit court a “subjectively” determined decision (by, for example, requiring that the court be “satisfied” as to some matter), then the decision is “inherently discretionary,” ¶28, which is of course reviewed deferentially. And where in distinction, as in this instance, the statute explicitly lays out a burden of proof, from which the court’s decision automatically flows, then review of whether the evidence has met that burden is something of a mix: non-deferential as to the ultimate conclusion, after giving weight to trial-level credibility determinations, etc. In effect, you take the facts as found by the trial court and then determine whether they satisfy the burden of proof. This methodology, the court says, “fosters consistency and uniformity in circuit court decision making,” ¶45. One wonders if it doesn’t also express a bit of concern that, given essentially unfettered and unreviewable discretion, circuit court decision making in the SVP context would be nothing so much as a rubber stamp.

The lesson of this case probably reduces to the following formulation: Context, which is to say statutory text and legislative intent, matters; the statute in this instance places a burden of proof on the State, and whether or not a litigant has met its burden of proof is reviewed paradigmatically as a question of law rather than discretion, ¶29. So it is here. Along the way, the court suggests that when the statute imposes on the circuit court a “subjectively” determined decision (by, for example, requiring that the court be “satisfied” as to some matter), then the decision is “inherently discretionary,” ¶28, which is of course reviewed deferentially. And where in distinction, as in this instance, the statute explicitly lays out a burden of proof, from which the court’s decision automatically flows, then review of whether the evidence has met that burden is something of a mix: non-deferential as to the ultimate conclusion, after giving weight to trial-level credibility determinations, etc. In effect, you take the facts as found by the trial court and then determine whether they satisfy the burden of proof. This methodology, the court says, “fosters consistency and uniformity in circuit court decision making,” ¶45. One wonders if it doesn’t also express a bit of concern that, given essentially unfettered and unreviewable discretion, circuit court decision making in the SVP context would be nothing so much as a rubber stamp.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail
{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment