When we review a criminal complaint with clients, I often get asked a similar question: "Why does it say I am a 'repeater'? I have never committed this crime before?"
In Wisconsin, the State can charge a defendant with a "habitual offender" enhancer. The relevant statute is Wis. Stat. 939.62: "Increased penalty for habitual criminality." As we look deeper into the statutory language, we see that the enhancer depends not on whether the person "did this before," but whether the person has a prior felony or three prior misdemeanors in the five years preceding the new offense.
The "habitual offender" enhancer adds additional imprisonment exposure on a new charge. If the new charge is a misdemeanor, then the enhancer adds 15 months of imprisonment. If the new charge is a felony, then the enhancer adds between 2 to 6 years of imprisonment, depending on whether the prior offenses were three misdemeanors or a felony.
The point a good criminal defense attorney should emphasize at the outset of a representation is that the habitual offender statute is negotiable as we work to resolve the charges. Often, a prosecutor will agree to dismiss the enhancer as part of a plea agreement. Additionally, we can review whether or not the enhancer was properly charged in the first place. Lastly, even if the enhancer remains part of a charge that a client enters a guilty/no contest plea to, or is found guilty of at trial, the court can still sentence the client to less than the maximum sentence.
While this post does not exhaust the legal issues that can arise when a person is charged with a habitual offender enhancer, we hope that it shows how important hiring a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the charging process and how to confront the additional potential imprisonment. Call us today at 262-632-2200 to discuss criminal charges or a habitual offender enhancer question.
Brian P. Dimmer