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Circuit court didn’t lose jurisdiction by dismissing charges and then quickly reinstating them

State v. Rasheem D. Davis, 2023 WI App 25; case activity (including briefs)

Addressing an issue of first impression in Wisconsin, the court of appeals holds that the circuit court’s order dismissing charges against Davis that was rescinded minutes later didn’t deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction.

Davis was charged in two separate cases with various offenses against Alicia, a pseudonym. At 9:26 on the morning of trial on the first case, the court advised the parties that it had several speedy trials set and it was “triaging” the cases to see which ones were ready to go. The state said it wasn’t prepared to try Davis’s case because of an issue with subpoenas and inconsistent contact with Alicia. Davis moved to dismiss the case. The circuit court granted the motion and dismissed the case without prejudice, and went off the record to address Davis’s other cases. (¶4).

But soon thereafter, the court went back on the record because the state informed the court that Alicia was present and that the state was ready to proceed to trial. The circuit court told the parties that another court might be available to handle the trial and set the case to be recalled at 10:45 a.m. The proceedings concluded at 9:30 a.m. (¶4). Davis went to trial later that day and was convicted on all of the charges in the first case. (¶¶5-8).

Postconviction and on appeal, Davis argued the circuit court lost subject matter jurisdiction when it dismissed the case because that was the “final disposition” of the case; therefore, the trial and conviction are null and void. (¶¶9-10, 13). While Wisconsin courts haven’t addressed this specific situation, the court of appeals rejects Davis’s claim, relying on authority from the District of Columbia, United States v. Green, 414 F.2d 1174 (D.C. Cir. 1969), and Lyles v. United States, 920 A.2d 446 (D.C. 2007), that it finds persuasive. (¶17 & n.8).

¶19     Similar to Green and Lyles, the circuit court here made an oral ruling to dismiss the charges against Davis without prejudice when the State indicated that it was not prepared to move forward with the trial. Merely minutes later—and during the same hearing—the State’s witness appeared, the State indicated that it could move forward with the trial, and the circuit court rescinded its prior oral ruling and reinstated the charges by transferring the case to the trial court for trial. At this point in the proceedings, the circuit court’s oral ruling dismissing the charges against Davis had also not yet been entered on the docket. Given the facts of this case, we conclude that the circuit court here had the power to rescind its oral dismissal of the charges, and we further conclude that it retained subject matter jurisdiction in Davis’s case. There was also “no appreciable prejudice [that] resulted from the rescission of the oral order of dismissal” given the ongoing nature of the hearing and the short period of time that lapsed between the oral ruling dismissing the charges and the witness’s appearance that caused the matter to move forward with the trial. See Lyles, 920 A.2d at 450. Consequently, we conclude that Davis’s subsequent trial and conviction was, therefore, not a legal nullity.

¶20     Furthermore, it is firmly established in Wisconsin law that a circuit court has the inherent authority to reconsider its own rulings during ongoing proceedings. Butcher [v. Ameritech Corp.], 2007 WI App 5], 298 Wis. 2d 468, ¶44[, 727 N.W.2d 546]; see also State v. Schwind, 2019 WI 48, ¶¶12-19, 386 Wis. 2d 526, 926 N.W.2d 742 (providing an overview of a court’s inherent authority). Again, evaluating the facts of this case, the circuit court made an oral ruling at the beginning of the hearing and, due to a change in circumstances that occurred during the same hearing, reconsidered that same ruling minutes later. We conclude that the circuit court’s actions here were, therefore, nothing more than an exercise of its inherent authority to reconsider its own rulings and its subject matter jurisdiction over Davis’s case did not expire….

Davis also argued that his lawyer was ineffective for not arguing the the circuit court had lost personal jurisdiction over Davis when it dismissed the case, but this claim is premised on the dismissal order being a final disposition, which claim the court has already rejected. And, given that the conviction on the first case is valid, Davis’s plea in the second case, which was premised on the outcome of the first case, is also valid, so Davis isn’t entitled to withdraw the plea. (¶¶22-25).

Finally, one of the convictions in the first case was for robbery by use of force. Davis argues the trial evidence was insufficient because it doesn’t prove the element that he intended to permanently deprive Alicia of the property. The standard of review for sufficiency is demanding, the analysis fact specific, and suffice it to say the court of appeals finds there was sufficient evidence to prove intent to permanently deprive despite the fact Davis returned the property after she reported the incident to police. (¶¶26-35).

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