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Defendant failed to show that schizophrenia and medication interfered with his plea

State v. Craig L. Miller, 2018AP2161-CR, 7/18/19, District 4 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Miller pled guilty to disorderly conduct as a domestic abuse incident and as a repeater. He appealed arguing that his plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary because of his schizophrenia diagnosis and the medication he was taking. The court of appeals ruled against him due to a lack of evidence.

During his plea colloquy, Miller admitted that he understood everything on his plea questionnaire/waiver of rights form and that all of the information was accurate. His lawyer had answered all of his questions. He understood his constitutional rights, and he agreed to waive them.

But after sentencing he filed a Nelson/Bentley motion for plea withdrawal and attached medical records showing his diagnosis, his medications, and notes indicating that days before the plea hearing his judgment had dropped from intact, to good, to fair. He argued that his ability to make decisions was compromised by his mental condition. Opinion, ¶9.

The court of appeals rejected this argument because Miller had presented no expert testimony or other evidence to indicate that his diagnosis of schizophrenia, his medication, or his deteriorating judgment rendered his plea unknowing, unintelligent, and involuntary. Opinion, ¶¶16-17.

Note: Medications for schizophrenia can slow a defendant’s thought processes and reaction times to the point that he defers to whatever is suggested. This is one reason it is important to raise a defendant’s competency to plead guilty, stand trial, or proceed to sentencing. Raising competency should lead to an evaluation to assess the defendant’s mental condition. See §971.14. Proceed cautiously under this statute because State v. Fitzgerald just declared parts of it unconstitutional.

If, at the postconviction stage, a defendant says that his plea was unknowing due to his mental condition, then he potentially has three claims: (1) He was denied substantive due process because he was incompetent at the time of his plea. This claim will require a retrospective competency evaluation. (2)  His trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to raise competency before he pled. (3) The trial court had reason to doubt his competency so it should have sua sponte ordered an evaluation. See State v. Smith, 2016 WI 23, ¶¶40-45, 367 Wis. 2d 483, 878 N.W.2d 135.


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