State v. Williams, No. 2010AP1551–CR.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtPATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK
Citation814 N.W.2d 460,2012 WI 59,341 Wis.2d 191
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. Douglas Meier WILLIAMS, Defendant–Appellant.
Decision Date30 May 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2010AP1551–CR.

341 Wis.2d 191
814 N.W.2d 460
2012 WI 59

STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff–Respondent,
v.
Douglas Meier WILLIAMS, Defendant–Appellant.

No. 2010AP1551–CR.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Argued Dec. 1, 2011.
Decided May 30, 2012.


[814 N.W.2d 462]


For the defendant-appellant there were briefs filed by Stephen P. Hurley, Dean A. Strang, Marcus J. Berghahn and Hurley, Burish, & Stanton, S.C., Madison and Jonas B. Bednarek and Bednarek Law Office, S.C., Madison, and oral argument by Stephen P. Hurley.

For the plaintiff-respondent the cause was argued by Sally L. Wellman, assistant attorney general, with whom on the brief was J.B. Van Hollen.


An amicus curiae brief was filed on behalf of Wisconsin Association of Judicial Court Commissioners and Wisconsin Family Court Commissioners' Association, Inc. by Jon P. Axelrod, Joseph A. Ranney, John C. Gardner, and DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., Madison, and oral argument by Jon P. Axelrod.

PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK, J.

[341 Wis.2d 193]¶ 1 This is an appeal of a decision of the Circuit Court for Rock County that the court of appeals has certified to us. The [341 Wis.2d 194]certification asks us to determine whether circuit court commissioners are prohibited from issuing warrants because doing so involves the exercise of judicial power, which Douglas Meier Williams argues is vested solely in courts and elected judges by Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution. Williams asserts that the search warrant that was issued for his home by a circuit court commissioner was invalid as beyond the lawful authority of court commissioners, and that the evidence obtained upon the execution of the warrant should be suppressed. Williams' argument focuses on the 1977 repeal of Article VII, Section 23, of the Wisconsin Constitution, which specifically referred to the assignment of certain judicial powers to “persons,” which he asserts included court commissioners. Williams asserts that by repealing Section 23 and adopting other sweeping changes to the court system in 1977, the voters of Wisconsin chose to vest “the judicial power” solely in elected judges and therefore, any exercise of such power by unelected persons, such as circuit court commissioners, violates the Wisconsin Constitution.

¶ 2 Under Wis. Stat. § 757.69(1)(b) (2007–08),1 circuit court commissioners are granted specific statutory authority to issue search warrants. No challenge was made to the warrant except the contention that the circuit court commissioner was without lawful authority to issue it. Accordingly, the questions presented herein reduce to whether § 757.69(1)(b), which grants circuit court commissioners the power to issue search warrants, is unconstitutional.

[341 Wis.2d 195]¶ 3 Throughout Wisconsin's history, including before the ratification of the Wisconsin Constitution, non-judges have been authorized by statute to issue search warrants. Therefore, we conclude that the issuance of a search warrant is not an exercise of “[t]he judicial power,” as that phrase is employed in Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution. Instead, issuance of a valid search warrant requires that the individual be authorized by law to

[814 N.W.2d 463]

issue the warrant, that he or she be neutral and detached, and that the warrant be issued only upon a showing of probable cause.

¶ 4 Because we also conclude that Wis. Stat. § 757.69(1)(b), which allocates the power to issue search warrants to circuit court commissioners, does not impermissibly intrude upon “[t]he judicial power” granted to the courts by Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution, we hold that § 757.69(1)(b) is constitutional. Therefore, the circuit court commissioner's search warrant was validly issued.2 Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's denial of Williams' motion to suppress.

I. BACKGROUND 3

¶ 5 This matter began when officers from the Beloit Police Department, the Rock County Sheriff's Department, and the Wisconsin Department of Justice responded to a drug complaint at 2181 Shopiere Road in Beloit. The home was owned and occupied by Williams. Two Beloit police officers, Andrew G. Arnold and Rafael [341 Wis.2d 196]De La Rosa, made contact with Williams at his home, after which Williams granted verbal consent to the officers to view a marijuana growing operation inside the house.

¶ 6 While viewing the interior of the house, the officers observed numerous marijuana plants throughout the living area and the basement. However, when the officers sought written consent to search the premises, Williams refused. Officer Arnold then swore out an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Williams' residence, specifying the particular structures to be searched and the intended objects of the search.

¶ 7 Upon review of Officer Arnold's affidavit, a Rock County Circuit Court Commissioner issued a search warrant for Williams' residence and associated out-buildings and vehicles.4 Officer Arnold and other officers then conducted the search, which returned 87 marijuana plants, various growing equipment and drug paraphernalia, cash, and several firearms. Williams was charged in Rock County Circuit Court with violations of Wis. Stat. § 961.41(1)(h) 3 (manufacturing tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], 1,000–2,500 grams), § 961.42(1) (maintaining a drug trafficking place), and Wis. Stat. § 139.95(2) (dealer in possession of a controlled substance without a tax stamp).

¶ 8 Subsequently, Williams challenged the constitutionality of Wis. Stat. § 757.69(1)(b), which grants circuit court commissioners the power to issue search warrants. He asserted that issuing the search warrant was an invalid exercise of the judicial power under Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution. [341 Wis.2d 197]Williams also filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained upon execution of the search warrant. Williams alleged, in support of his earlier motion to suppress, that the issuance of the warrant was unconstitutional and that the evidence was therefore inadmissible. The Rock County Circuit Court heard argument and denied Williams' motions. The court held that the constitutional provisions at issue did not bar court commissioners from issuing search warrants, and that their issuance is a properly delegated ministerial task. The court also concluded that even if constitutional

[814 N.W.2d 464]

infirmities existed, the good faith exception would allow admission of the evidence obtained by execution of the warrant.

¶ 9 In accordance with a subsequently negotiated plea agreement, Williams pled no contest to the charge of manufacturing THC; the other two charges were dismissed. The court sentenced Williams to four years probation with six months conditional jail time, as well as forfeitures and costs. The court stayed Williams' incarceration pending appeal. Williams timely appealed. The court of appeals certified the appeal, and we accepted the certification.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review

¶ 10 We are asked to interpret the meaning of “[t]he judicial power” under Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution and to decide whether Wis. Stat. § 757.69 delineating court commissioners' powers is an unconstitutional vesting of the judicial power in court commissioners. The interpretation of the Wisconsin[341 Wis.2d 198]Constitution and the determination of the constitutionality of statutes are questions of law that we review independently of the circuit court. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. Wis. Dep't of Admin., 2009 WI 79, ¶ 14, 319 Wis.2d 439, 768 N.W.2d 700.

¶ 11 In addition, statutes are presumed to be constitutional. See State v. Cole, 2003 WI 112, ¶ 11, 264 Wis.2d 520, 665 N.W.2d 328. Therefore, when presented with a challenge to a statute's constitutionality, we will indulge every presumption to sustain the law and will resolve any doubt in favor of constitutionality. See Soc'y Ins. v. LIRC, 2010 WI 68, ¶ 27, 326 Wis.2d 444, 786 N.W.2d 385. Accordingly, a party challenging the constitutionality of a statute faces a heavy burden and must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates the constitution in order to prevail. See id.

B. Statutory Authorization for Search Warrants

¶ 12 When interpreting statutes, we typically begin with the language chosen and “[i]f the meaning of the statute is plain, we ordinarily stop the inquiry.” State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cnty., 2004 WI 58, ¶ 45, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110;see Buse v. Smith, 74 Wis.2d 550, 568, 247 N.W.2d 141 (1976). Where statutory language is ambiguous, we may turn to extrinsic sources to aid our interpretation. Kalal, 271 Wis.2d 633, ¶¶ 46–47, 681 N.W.2d 110.

¶ 13 We begin with the statutory provision that sets out the authority of circuit court commissioners, Wis. Stat. § 757.69. The relevant portion of that statute, § 757.69(1)(b), provides in part:

[341 Wis.2d 199](1) A circuit court commissioner may:

...

(b) In criminal matters issue summonses, arrest warrants or search warrants, determine probable cause to support a warrantless arrest, conduct initial appearances of persons arrested, set bail, inform the defendant in accordance with s. 970.02(1), refer the person to the authority for indigency determinations specified under s. 977.07(1), conduct the preliminary examination and arraignment, and, with the consent of both the state and the defendant, accept a guilty plea.

Upon examination of the words of the statute, we conclude that the language used is plain and that the statutory language provides for the issuance of search warrants by circuit court commissioners.


[814 N.W.2d 465]

¶ 14 However, the primary question presented in this case is whether Wis. Stat. § 757.69(1)(b)'s authorization for court commissioners to issue search warrants impermissibly allows commissioners to exercise “[t]he judicial power,” which Article VII, Section 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution vests in courts and, by necessary implication, the judges that serve as “courts.” We begin our inquiry by examining...

To continue reading

Request your trial
17 practice notes
  • In re Reyes, No. 28167–1–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 19, 2013
    ...act only in court or not at all. ¶ 32 Judges' powers at chambers were originally derived from the common law. See State v. Williams, 341 Wis.2d 191, 212 n. 15, 814 N.W.2d 460 (2012). 12 The common law is subject to legislative modification, but it applies unless it is inconsistent with the ......
  • State v. O'Brien, Nos. 2012AP1769–CR, 2012AP1770–CR, 2012AP1863–CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 9, 2014
    ...of a statute bears the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates the constitution. State v. Williams, 2012 WI 59, ¶ 11, 341 Wis.2d 191, 814 N.W.2d 460. This is a heavy burden as statutes are presumed constitutional and we resolve any reasonable doubt in favor of ......
  • In re Reyes, No. 28167–1–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 19, 2013
    ...court or not at all. [309 P.3d 752] ¶ 32 Judges' powers at chambers were originally derived from the common law. See State v. Williams, 341 Wis.2d 191, 212 n. 15, 814 N.W.2d 460 (2012).12 The common law is subject to legislative modification, but it applies unless it is inconsistent with th......
  • League of Women Voters of Wis. v. Evers, No. 2019AP559
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 21, 2019
    ...understanding of the drafters and the people who adopted the constitutional provision under consideration." State v. Williams, 2012 WI 59, ¶15, 341 Wis. 2d 191, 814 N.W.2d 460. It is undisputed that at the time of its passage, Article IV, Section 11 was understood to place limits on le......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • In re Reyes, No. 28167–1–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 19, 2013
    ...act only in court or not at all. ¶ 32 Judges' powers at chambers were originally derived from the common law. See State v. Williams, 341 Wis.2d 191, 212 n. 15, 814 N.W.2d 460 (2012). 12 The common law is subject to legislative modification, but it applies unless it is inconsistent with the ......
  • State v. O'Brien, Nos. 2012AP1769–CR, 2012AP1770–CR, 2012AP1863–CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 9, 2014
    ...of a statute bears the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates the constitution. State v. Williams, 2012 WI 59, ¶ 11, 341 Wis.2d 191, 814 N.W.2d 460. This is a heavy burden as statutes are presumed constitutional and we resolve any reasonable doubt in favor of ......
  • In re Reyes, No. 28167–1–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 19, 2013
    ...court or not at all. [309 P.3d 752] ¶ 32 Judges' powers at chambers were originally derived from the common law. See State v. Williams, 341 Wis.2d 191, 212 n. 15, 814 N.W.2d 460 (2012).12 The common law is subject to legislative modification, but it applies unless it is inconsistent with th......
  • League of Women Voters of Wis. v. Evers, No. 2019AP559
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 21, 2019
    ...understanding of the drafters and the people who adopted the constitutional provision under consideration." State v. Williams, 2012 WI 59, ¶15, 341 Wis. 2d 191, 814 N.W.2d 460. It is undisputed that at the time of its passage, Article IV, Section 11 was understood to place limits on le......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT