614 N.W.2d 477 (Wis. 1899), 97-3217, State v. Byrge

Docket Nº:97-3217-CR.
Citation:614 N.W.2d 477, 237 Wis.2d 197
Opinion Judge:[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: David T. Prosser, J.
Party Name:STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Jeramey J. BYRGE, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
Attorney:[6] Attorneys:
Case Date:July 13, 2000
Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

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614 N.W.2d 477 (Wis. 1899)

237 Wis.2d 197

STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,


Jeramey J. BYRGE, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.

No. 97-3217-CR.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

July 13, 2000

Argued March 1, 2000.

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[237 Wis.2d 203] For the defendant-appellant-petitioner there were briefs and oral argument by Steven P. Weiss, assistant state public defender.

[237 Wis.2d 204] For the plaintiff-respondent, the cause was argued by Sally L. Wellman, assistant attorney general, with whom on the brief was James E. Doyle, attorney general.


Jeramey J. Byrge (Byrge) seeks review of a published decision of the court of appeals, State v. Byrge, 225 Wis.2d 702, 594 N.W.2d 388 (Ct.App.1999), affirming a decision of the Circuit Court for Calumet County, Darryl W. Deets, Judge. The circuit court determined that Byrge was competent to stand trial for charges stemming from five felony offenses, including first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. After denying Byrge's motion to withdraw his no contest pleas but permitting him to withdraw the pleas of not guilty by reason of mental defect (NGI), the court found Byrge guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment with a parole eligibility date of July 2, 2095.

¶ 2 Byrge unsuccessfully motioned the circuit court for post-conviction relief and subsequently sought review by the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that,

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under the deferential standard of review articulated by this court in State v. Garfoot, 207 Wis.2d 214, 558 N.W.2d 626 (1997), an appellate court will not upset a circuit court's competency determination unless it is clearly erroneous. The court then affirmed the finding that Byrge was competent to proceed. The court also held that Byrge's pleas were not defective because a sentencing court is not required to inform defendants about parole eligibility. Finally, the court of appeals concluded that Byrge had not received ineffective assistance of counsel.

[237 Wis.2d 205] ¶ 3 We frame three issues in this case. First, we revisit our holding in Garfoot and discuss the standard of review that applies to competency determinations. Second, we address the related issue, whether Byrge was competent to stand trial. Third, we examine Byrge's contention that the sentencing court was obligated to inform him about parole eligibility before it accepted his plea.

¶ 4 We hold that an appellate court reviewing a competency determination must use the methodology set forth in Garfoot. The findings of a circuit court in a competency to stand trial determination will not be upset unless they are clearly erroneous because a competency hearing presents a unique category of inquiry in which the circuit court is in the best position to apply the law to the facts. We find that the circuit court's decision that Byrge was competent to stand trial was not clearly erroneous because testimony at the competency hearing indicated Byrge was able to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense. We conclude that when a circuit court exercises its statutory option to fix a parole eligibility date, that date has a direct and automatic effect on the range of punishment. In this circumstance, parole eligibility information is a direct consequence of the plea. Although the circuit court had a duty to inform Byrge about the parole eligibility information before it accepted his plea, the State has met its burden to prove that Byrge nonetheless entered the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.


¶ 5 On Friday evening, August 19, 1994, Joan Wagner (Wagner) called her husband and told him that [237 Wis.2d 206] she would see him after her shift ended at 11:00 p.m. at the Mirro Foley Company in Chilton, Wisconsin. Wagner expressed excitement about the new home on which the couple had closed that day. When she did not arrive home by 11:30 p.m., her husband retraced Wagner's route but was unable to locate her or her vehicle.

¶ 6 A Mirro Foley co-worker observed Wagner leaving the facility at 11:15 p.m. He noticed that a male who had been sitting near the parking lot approached Wagner and began talking with her. Wagner and the male walked towards Wagner's blue-over-gray 1989 Pontiac Grand Am, and she unlocked the passenger's side for the male. The two then drove off. The co-worker later identified Byrge as the person who accompanied Wagner.

¶ 7 At about 11:45 p.m., a Town of Rantoul resident, Chris Kopecky (Kopecky), heard what he presumed to be screams coming from the woods near his home. He also saw a blue Grand Am near the entrance to those woods and remembered the first letter and number of the license plates. Two days later, Kopecky's mother realized that his description of the Grand Am matched the vehicle discussed in a newspaper article detailing Wagner's disappearance. Kopecky then decided to check the woods. On August 23, 1994, he and two friends saw a puddle of blood just off a trail leading into the woods. The shoes and feet of a body rested 500 feet away. Law enforcement authorities arrived and discovered that the clothing on the body matched what Wagner had worn. An autopsy positively identified the body and revealed that Wagner had been stabbed four times.

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¶ 8 Byrge, a 19-year old who lived next door to Wagner, was not seen in the Chilton area after August 19, 1994. Earlier in the week, Byrge had indicated that [237 Wis.2d 207] he planned to take a bus trip to Colorado to visit a woman with whom he had a child. On August 23, 1994, Detective Jerry Pagel of the Calumet County Sheriff's Department, contacted Colorado authorities. They arrested Byrge in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. At the time of his arrest, Byrge was operating a blue and silver Pontiac Grand Am that bore Wisconsin plates. The vehicle was registered to Wagner and her husband. During a search of the Grand Am, Colorado authorities found a hunting knife with a curved, four-inch blade under the front driver's seat. The knife appeared to have blood and body tissue on it.


¶ 9 On August 25, 1994, the Calumet County District Attorney filed a complaint alleging that Byrge caused Wagner's death. The complaint stated that Byrge committed the first-degree intentional homicide of Wagner, contrary to Wis. Stat. § 940.01(1) (1991-92), 1 a felony punishable by life imprisonment. The complaint also alleged that Byrge was responsible for four other crimes: (1) hiding a corpse contrary to Wis. Stat. § 940.11(2), (2) false imprisonment contrary to Wis. Stat. § 940.30, (3) bail jumping contrary to Wis. Stat. § 946.49(1)(b), and (4) operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent contrary to Wis. Stat. § 943.23(2).

¶ 10 The Circuit Court for Calumet County conducted a preliminary hearing on September 16, 1994, and the court bound Byrge over for trial on all counts. The prosecution filed an Information that same day, [237 Wis.2d 208] alleging the same charges as those set forth in the criminal complaint.

¶ 11 Byrge pled not guilty to all charges on September 23, 1994. One month later, on October 24, 1994, Byrge amended his pleas to include NGI pleas to the charges. On November 15, 1994, Byrge entered pleas of no contest to all the charges except the false imprisonment charge. These modifications were not the result of a plea agreement. The NGI pleas remained intact as to all five charges.

¶ 12 Three psychiatrists examined Byrge and filed reports with respect to the NGI pleas. 2 A court-appointed expert, Dr. Ralph K. Baker, examined Byrge on December 16. Dr. A.A. Lorenz, the psychiatrist selected by Byrge, evaluated him on March 3, 1995. The state's expert, Dr. Frederick Fosdal, interviewed Byrge on March 13.

¶ 13 On March 20 Byrge's trial counsel, Joseph Norby (Norby), filed a motion requesting a competency evaluation. Nine days later the circuit court appointed Dr. Baker to examine Byrge for competency to stand trial. 3 Board certified in both psychiatry and neurology, Baker had evaluated more than 1,000 individuals [237 Wis.2d 209] for competency by the time of Byrge's hearing. Both Byrge and the State had placed Baker on their lists of psychiatrists acceptable as experts.

¶ 14 Baker evaluated Byrge for competency to proceed on April 14. During this examination, Byrge at first remained silent. Baker concluded that this silence

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was not the product of mental illness because Byrge agreed, albeit reluctantly, to speak with Baker after consulting Norby. Baker later testified that his findings from both this examination and the evaluation he had conducted with respect to the NGI pleas helped Baker determine many factors about Byrge that bore on competency.

¶ 15 The circuit court commenced the competency hearing on Friday, April 21, but postponed the proceeding until the following Monday because Dr. Baker was unavailable. When the hearing reconvened on April 24, the district attorney informed the court that Byrge had cut himself with glass earlier in the morning and that Byrge still might have glass in his mouth. Norby indicated that he and Byrge had had differences that day, culminating in a physical and verbal confrontation. Norby informed the court that he "never had been faced with a situation like this before," and that he was "at a loss as to how to proceed." The court and the attorneys agreed to bring Byrge into the courtroom under restraints and shackled to a wheelchair to protect courtroom personnel and Norby.

¶ 16 The court first addressed Byrge. Byrge did not respond when Judge Deets inquired whether he was competent or incompetent. Following the procedure set forth in Wis. Stat. § 971.14(4)(b), the court and the parties agreed that Byrge's decision to stand mute would require the court to find Byrge...

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