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Bias Statements by Court

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//February 27, 2023//

Bias Statements by Court

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//February 27, 2023//

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WI Court of Appeals – District III

Case Name: State of Wisconsin v. Graham L. Stowe

Case No.: 2021AP000431-CR

Officials: Hruz, J.

Focus: Bias Statements by Court

Graham Stowe, who is subject to an NGI commitment (“not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect), appeals from an order denying his petition for conditional release. Stowe also appeals from an order denying his motion for postdisposition relief. Before any evidence had been officially presented on Stowe’s petition, the circuit court made several statements encouraging Stowe to wait for counsel to be appointed, thus permitting him to make further progress in his treatment, rather than to advance his petition at that time. In doing so, the court strongly suggested that Stowe had not made sufficient progress in treatment, that his chances of release would likely improve if he received additional treatment, that he should take more time to develop his case, and that he would need a witness—other than himself—to explain how his renewed devotion to the Catholic faith has affected his overall dangerousness. Stowe argues on appeal that these comments demonstrate objective bias because they show that the court prejudged Stowe’s petition for conditional release.

The appeals court agrees that the totality of the circuit court’s comments revealed a serious risk of actual bias. The court’s opening comments would lead an objective and reasonable person to conclude that if Stowe rejected the court’s advice to wait for counsel to be appointed before proceeding with the hearing, then the court had already made up its mind to deny Stowe’s petition.

Reversed and Remanded.

Decided 02/17/23

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