State v. Liebnitz

In State v. Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d 272, 283, 603 N.W.2d 208 (1999), the supreme court held that based on the totality of the record, the defendant's plea was an admission for the purposes of fulfilling the requirement of the statute. The defendant entered into a plea agreement that included a sentence recommendation that could only be achieved by application of the repeater statute. On appeal, the defendant argued that he had not admitted his prior convictions because the circuit judge did not directly ask him whether he had been convicted of the crimes set forth in the repeater allegations. See Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d at 284. The court rejected the argument based on the totality of the record. At the initial appearance, the judge read each count in the complaint. After each count, the judge explained that the complaint alleged that the defendant was a repeater because he had been convicted of a felony. With each explanation, the judge specified the felony and the date of conviction, and said that, as a result, the penalty could be increased by six years, to a total maximum of eight years. After each explanation, the court asked the defendant if he understood and he said he did. See Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d at 277-78. In two later hearings, the defendant affirmed that there was a factual basis for the charges found in the complaint. In Liebnitz, the defendant had the complaint read to him at the initial appearance, including the prior convictions and their effect on the penalties that he faced. See Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d at 277-78. In State v. Liebnitz, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that when a defendant accepts a plea agreement where the recommended sentence could be reached only by application of the repeater penalties and the repeater allegations are not proven, a court should look to the totality of the record to determine if the defendant's plea constitutes an admission under Wis. Stat. 973.12(1). See Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d at 281, 288. The supreme court held that in considering the totality of the record, a court should pay special attention to four parts of the record: First, whether the charging documents properly charge the defendant as a repeater under Wis. Stat. 939.62; second, whether the repeater charge was read to the defendant at the initial appearance; third, whether the record of the plea agreement, including the plea questionnaire, contains an acknowledgement of the prior convictions; and fourth, if the defendant understood that his or her no contest plea was an admission that all material facts in the charging documents were true. See Liebnitz, 231 Wis. 2d at 285-87.