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Across the Region: Conviction is upheld in Wisconsin despite claim of jury taint


AG: Privacy amendment doesn’t block release of crime information

Government entities aren’t automatically blocked from releasing information such as the exact location of a crime to the public under a new victims’ rights constitutional amendment, Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a legal opinion released Monday.

Instead, victims must opt into privacy protections offered by the amendment, Jackley wrote in the attorney general’s opinion. Confusion has swirled since voters in November approved the amendment, better known as Marsy’s Law.

It establishes rights for victims, including privacy, protection from harassment or abuse, and timely notice of trial, sentencing and post-judgment proceedings.

Jackley said in the opinion that the amendment requires victims to actively invoke their right to prevent the disclosure of information or records.

The amendment had caused law enforcement agencies, including Sioux Falls police, to stop providing details such as the addresses where crimes occurred or the names of victimized businesses.

Rapid City police have been using generalized addresses for additional types of crimes in public logs, and state officials have said they won’t release the names of people involved in car crashes that result in injury or death.

“While there is more work being done, this opinion is intended to help victims and those assisting victims in carrying out our new law,” Jackley said in a statement.

Attorney general opinions offer guidance on legal issues until the Legislature changes the law or a court rules on them.

Jackley has also convened a task force to work on interpreting Marsy’s Law and to address issues caused by its implementation.

The victims’ rights amendment is named for California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, bankrolled the effort to expand it to more states.



Conviction is upheld despite claim of jury taint

A jury properly convicted a Kenosha man of sexually assaulting and killing a 20-year-old woman even though some jurors caught a glimpse of a witness’ file that branded the killer a sex offender, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Prosecutors charged Joshua Braithwaite in 2014 of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 20-year-old Lashe Zalar, whose burned body was found in 2012 by firefighters at a Kenosha park as they battled a grass fire.

Braithwaite argued on appeal he deserved a new trial, saying that Judge S. Michael Wilk barred prosecutors from introducing any evidence of Braithwaite’s juvenile adjudication for a home invasion and sexual assault of a child in 2004. A juvenile adjudication is similar to a conviction in adult court.

Braithwaite’s probation agent testified during the trial about how Braithwaite had missed a meeting on the morning of the homicide. The agent brought a file to the stand; it had a red sticker with the words “sexual abuse” or “sexual offender” in bold print.

Two alternate jurors told a victim witness coordinator that some of the jurors saw the sticker. The judge allowed deliberations to continue rather than question the jurors about the sticker. After the verdict, seven of the 12 jurors told the judge they had seen the sticker, prompting Braithwaite to request a mistrial.

Wilk refused after all the jurors said they didn’t take the sticker into consideration because it wasn’t evidence. One juror called the sticker a deliberate attempt by prosecutors to influence jurors but said he was able to look past it.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals sided with Wilk, ruling the judge was correct to question the jurors and they were clearly able to disregard the sticker. The appellate court added there was still enough evidence to convict Braithwaite regardless, including his DNA on her body and a cellmate’s testimony that Braithwaite bragged about killing her.

Braithwaite’s attorney, Dennis Schertz, said he hadn’t read the ruling yet but was “obviously disappointed.” He said he doesn’t understand how anyone could ignore a juror saying the state was trying to introduce evidence that wasn’t allowed.


Law school database hacked; applicants at risk

The University of Wisconsin Law School has notified more than 1,200 former applicants that they could be at risk of identity theft because the school’s database was hacked.

The university says Social Security numbers from 2005 to 2006 applicants were recently compromised. The Law School has taken down the affected server as a result and added a firewall to better protect that data.

The State Journal says the school contacted UW Police about the hack. Police spokesman Marc Lovicott says investigators have identified a potential hacker, who lives out of state. No arrests have been made.

The university discovered the database was hacked on Nov. 3 and notified the applicants Tuesday.



State disbands forfeiture team, accepts settlement

Iowa officials have disbanded a state forfeiture team and agreed to pay $60,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two California gamblers whose bankroll was seized by State Patrol troopers in 2013.

The Des Moines Register reports that the unit’s key focus was to stop suspicious vehicles on Interstate 80. It was part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety and had become a target in recent years from critics who alleged the team used unconstitutional practices to seize private property for law enforcement profits.

Iowa troopers seized more than $100,000 from William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky in April 2013 after pulling over their vehicle on I-80 in Poweshiek County for failure to use a turn signal. Troopers justified the search partly on Newmerzhycky’s fidgeting and nervousness.

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