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Guilty Pleas – Factual Basis – Particular Examples: Reckless Endangering — Competing Inferences

State v. Wayne A. Sutton, 2006 WI App 118, PFR filed 6/18/06
For Sutton: William E. Schmaal, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether the guilty plea to first-degree reckless endangering, amended from battery, was supported by a factual basis.


¶21      At the plea hearing, the State presented the basis for the amended charge of first-degree reckless endangerment, relying in part on statements Sutton made to a West Bend police officer. In his statement, Sutton said that the victim lunged or tried to strike him while the two of them were in a small restroom at a bar. Sutton responded by pushing the victim. Defense counsel acknowledged that the victim may have hit the wall, toilet, urinal or sink after Sutton pushed him. Sutton then left the restroom without checking on the victim. …

¶22      Sutton argues on appeal that his defensive action in pushing the victim cannot form the basis for criminally reckless conduct. That argument would have been available to him at trial. However, Sutton exhorted the court to accept the version of facts that were presented in support of the reckless endangerment charge. “[A] factual basis for a plea exists if an inculpatory inference can be drawn from the complaint or facts admitted to by the defendant even though it may conflict with an exculpatory inference elsewhere in the record and the defendant later maintains that the exculpatory inference is the correct one.” State v. Black, 2001 WI 31, ¶16, 242 Wis. 2d 126, 624 N.W.2d 363. “The essence of what a defendant waives when he or she enters a guilty or no contest plea” is the opportunity to defend against the inculpatory inferences and advocate those that are exculpatory. See id.

¶23      Here, the circuit court properly scrutinized the information presented by both parties and questioned the attorneys extensively before determining that a sufficient factual basis existed for the plea. A circuit court fulfills its duty when it makes “such inquiry as satisfies [the court] that the defendant in fact committed the crime charged.” Wis. Stat. § 971.08(1)(b). Based upon the foregoing, we hold that the circuit court applied the proper legal standard and its decision is supported by the totality of the circumstances.


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