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Courts needn’t specify whether defendant is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor when accepting a guilty plea

State v. Nely B. Robles, 2013 WI App 76; case activity.

Issue:  When accepting a guilty plea is the circuit court required to specify whether the defendant is pleading to a felony or a misdemeanor?

Robles sought to withdraw her guilty plea on the grounds that the circuit court’s failure to specify the designation of the charged crime violated Wis. Stats.  § 971.08(1)(a)’s requirement that she be informed of the “nature of the charge.”  The court of appeals rejected this argument for essentially two reasons.

First, Wisconsin cases  “inform us that our supreme court recognizes the term ‘nature of the charge’ as referring to the elements of the charged offense or, more precisely, the elements of the offense in relation to the facts associated with that charge.”  Id., ¶10. SeeState v. Bangert, 131 Wis. 2d 246, 267-68, 389 N.W.2d 12 (1986); State v. Brown, 2006 WI 100, ¶¶ 5, 46, 293 Wis. 2d 594, 716 N.W.2d 906; and State v. Howell, 2007 WI 75, ¶¶43, 51, 54, 301 Wis. 2d 350, 734 N.W.2d 48.

Second, the same line of cases says that the circuit court may inform the defendant of the “nature of the charge” by reading from the appropriate jury instruction or applicable statute.  The vast majority of jury instructions do not include the word “felony” or “misdemeanor.”  Robles, ¶11.  Ergo, courts needn’t use those magic words.

Bottom line:  “[T]he ‘felony’ or ‘misdemeanor’ designation of a charge is not part of the ‘nature of the charge.’ Accordingly, a circuit court accepting a plea is not required to specifically inform the defendant of the applicable designation.”  Id., ¶13.

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