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Guilty Pleas – Required Knowledge — Elements — Burglary with Intent to Commit Felony — Specific Felony

State v. Earl Steele, 2001 WI App 34, 241 Wis. 2d 269, 625 N.W.2d 595
For Steele: Timothy J. Gaskell

Issue: Whether the colloquy on a guilty plea to burglary/intent-to-commit-felony must apprise the defendant of the specific felony.


¶8                        The trial court chose to summarize WIS. STAT. § 943.10 during colloquy, in combination with questioning defense counsel.  Steele contends that this summary was inadequate, since he was not specifically informed that the underlying felony for the burglary charge was “felon in possession of a firearm.”  A plea is not voluntary if the defendant does not understand the essential elements of the charge at the time the plea was entered.  See Bangert, 131 Wis. 2d at 257-58.  In effect, Steele is asserting that the specific nature of the underlying felony is an essential element of the charge.  We disagree.

¶9                        In State v. Hammer, 216 Wis. 2d 214, 219, 221, 576 N.W.2d 285 (Ct. App. 1997), we held that a defendant is not entitled to jury unanimity on the underlying felony in a burglary charge.  The language of WIS. STAT. § 943.10 emphasizes the fact that the defendant intended to commit a felony; it does not matter which felony forms the basis of that intent.  Hammer, 216 Wis. 2d at 220.  Therefore, § 943.10 sets forth a “single offense with multiple modes of commission,” not multiple offenses defined by each possible underlying felony.  Hammer, 216 Wis. 2d at 220. It follows from our conclusion in Hammer that the nature of the particular underlying felony is not an essential element of a burglary charge and therefore need not be explained during colloquy in order to fulfill WIS. STAT. § 971.08(1)(a) requirements.

¶10                        Because we conclude that the trial court adequately explained the elements of the charge to Steele, we also conclude that its failure to specify the underlying felony was not a defect in the plea proceedings.


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