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Stipulation to grounds for TPR was entered freely, voluntarily, intelligently

State v. D.T., 2016AP1488, 2/21/17, District 1 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

D.T. sought to withdraw her stipulation that the court had grounds to terminate her parental rights. She said the court made conflicting statements during its colloquy with her, such as  “it’s never too late to meet the conditions of return.” The court of appeals noted that the circuit court later clarified this remark by stressing that the focus of the subsequent dispositional hearing would be on the child’s best interests. 

For each confusing circuit court comment that D.T. identified, the court of appeals highlighted a clarifying comment. It held:

¶15 Our independent review of the record shows that D.T. unquestionably entered her stipulation freely, voluntarily, and intelligently. During her stipulation, D.T. affirmed that she understood she was giving up her right to trial and her right to contest the continuing CHIPS grounds. The circuit court explained to D.T. that a stipulation would result in a finding of unfitness and that the case would proceed to the dispositional hearing. D.T. stated that she understood. The circuit court then provided a detailed explanation of what the dispositional hearing would entail, specifically informing D.T. that the court would “focus on what’s best in this case for [her son],” and that the parties would submit evidence of what was in the child’s best interests. D.T. explicitly stated that she understood. D.T. again affirmed to the circuit court that she understood all of her rights and that she understood what a dispositional hearing would entail, including the potential outcomes.

D.T. presented an interesting alternative argument. The court couldn’t terminate D.T.’s parental rights just based on the stipulation. The State had offer prove-up testimony first. D.T. argued that the prove-testimony establishing a factual basis happened several months after the stipulation itself. However, the court of appeals declined to address this issue:

¶19 . . . In noting this, D.T. asserts that “[i]f the factual basis for the [stipulation] was procedurally incomplete or inadequate,” then the stipulation was not voluntary. D.T., however, provides no legal authority to support this assertion. D.T. provides no facts and puts forth no arguments on how the time lag influenced whether the factual basis was incomplete or inadequate. D.T. also provides no facts and puts forth no arguments on how the factual basis itself was incomplete or inadequate. As such, we decline to address this argument as it is inadequately briefed and conclusory. See State v. Pettit, 171 Wis. 2d 627, 646, 492 N.W.2d 633 (Ct. App. 1992).


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