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Guilty Pleas – Factual Basis — Use of Complaint

State v. Tyren E. Black, 2001 WI 31, 242 Wis. 2d 126, 624 N.W.2d 363, reversing unpublished court of appeals decision
For Black: Michael S. Holzman

Issue: Whether the trial court properly found a factual basis for the guilty plea, by relying solely on the criminal complaint, where extraneous information put one of the elements in doubt.


¶14. In essence, Black urges us to overturn this rule and find that a circuit court cannot find a factual basis for a plea in the complaint alone. We find no law in support of Black’s position. To be sure, a circuit court may look beyond the complaint to the record in a Wis. Stat. § 971.08(1)(b) factual basis inquiry, but Black does not cite any authority that requires a circuit court to do so. We decline to hamstring circuit courts by overturning our precedent and ruling that they may not find a factual basis for a plea in the complaint. Moreover, we decline to rewrite § 971.08(1)(b) as requiring the circuit judge to conduct a mini-trial at every plea hearing to establish that the defendant committed the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. If the facts as set forth in the complaint meet the elements of the crime charged, they may form the factual basis for a plea.

¶16. … (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. See, e.g., State v. Spears, 147 Wis. 2d 429, 435, 433 N.W.2d 595 (Ct. App. 1988); In re Guilty Plea Cases, 235 N.W.2d 132, 145 (Mich. 1975). This is the essence of what a defendant waives when he or she enters a guilty or no contest plea. Therefore, the circuit judge properly utilized the complaint as a factual basis for the plea, thereby making ‘such inquiry as satisfies [the court] that the defendant in fact committed the crime charged.’ Wis. Stat. § 971.08(1)(b).


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