Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

State v. Felton Wisconsin Supreme Court (1983)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The court held that lawyer’s representation of domestic violence victim/ criminal defendant constituted ineffective assistance of counsel where lawyer failed to inform himself of statutes regarding heat-of-passion manslaughter defense to first-degree murder charge and failed to consider the defense of not-guilty due to mental disease or defect, or make meaningful investigation into facts that would support the defense.  The defendant was married to her husband for twenty-three years; during that time her husband severely abused her and her children.  Defendant shot and killed her husband while he was asleep.  Her counsel used the “battered spouse” defense, claiming that she acted in self-defense.  The jury received instructions on first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter and on the privilege of self defense.  However, “there was no request for instruction on heat-of-passion manslaughter.”  After her conviction by a jury of second degree murder, appellate counsel brought a post-conviction motion arguing trial counsel was ineffective.  The trial attorney admitted that he was not “well-versed in criminal law.”  Although he practiced for three years, his practice had not been in Wisconsin and he never “handled an entire felony case.”  He acknowledged that he was probably incompetent to handle a case of this magnitude.”  The court held that “counsel’s conduct did not rise to the standard expected of a prudent lawyer reasonably skilled and versed in the criminal law.”  It also found that the “conduct of counsel prejudiced the defendant by depriving her of important defenses.”  Therefore, it held counsel was ineffective.  It reversed the portion of the court of appeals decision which found defendant guilty and affirmed the part which ordered a new trial on the “question of criminal responsibility.”