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Defense win on plea withdrawal! Circuit court failed to advise of maximum fine.

State v. Matthew Curtis Sills, 2018AP1052-CR, District 1, 1/14/20 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The State initially Sills with 1st degree child sexual assault, but then amended the charge twice. Ultimately, Sills pled to 2nd degree sexual assault of a child. Before he was sentenced, he moved to withdraw his plea arguing, among other things, that court had failed to inform him that he faced a maximum fine of $100,000.

The circuit court denied Sills’ motion, but the court of appeals reversed based on State v. Bangert, 131 Wis. 2d 246, 260-62, 389 N.W.2d 12 (1986). It explained:

Bangert requires a trial court to establish that a defendant understands the nature of the crime with which he is charged and “the range of punishments to which he is subjecting himself by entering a plea”, and it must “[n]otify the defendant of the direct consequences of his plea[.]” Brown, 293 Wis. 2d 594, ¶35. A fine is part of the range of punishments a defendant faces. See WIS. STAT. § 939.50(3); State v. Ramel, 2007 WI App 271, ¶15, 306 Wis. 2d 654, 743 N.W.2d 502. Opinion, ¶23.

The showed that Sills was informed of the maximum sentence that he faced, but not of the maximum fine:

¶31 Here, the trial court discussed the consequences of entering a plea to second-degree sexual assault of a child under sixteen with Sills on two different occasions—August 23, 2016, and February 3, 2017. Both times the trial court failed to advise Sills that, in addition to a prison term, the offense carried a maximum $100,000 fine. The State did not correct the trial court’s error on either occasion. The fine was also omitted from the plea questionnaire and waiver of rights form.

¶32 At the evidentiary hearing on Sills’ plea withdrawal motion, Sills testified that he did not understand that the maximum fine he faced was $100,000. Sills’ testimony is consistent with the fact that the fine was not listed on the plea questionnaire and waiver of rights form and original trial counsel’s testimony that
he did not recall whether he had told Sills about the fine.

The court of appeals thus held that the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it denied Sills’s motion to withdraw his plea.

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