People in Wisconsin may have heard about a new law that could have dangerous consequences for people facing drug or other criminal charges. Wisconsin Act 285, which went into effect last April, allows prosecutors to use hearsay evidence, evidence that is not valid or trustworthy enough to use at a criminal trial, in the preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to show that there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime.
In this case a 24-year-old man was charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the drug overdose death of his girlfriend. He stood accused of supplying her with the heroin that killed her on April 12, 2012 which, according to prosecutors, is a felony more serious than even drug distribution, even though she willfully took the drugs herself.
In the preliminary hearing the prosecutor attempted to use hearsay evidence, asking a police officer what he heard somebody else say about the alleged events that took place around the time of the woman's death. This evidence would certainly not be admissible at trial, and thanks to some quick thinking, the defendant's attorney was able to exclude the officer's testimony from admission on the grounds that the defendant's actions took place before the passage of Wisconsin Act 285. By stopping the admission of this evidence, the defense attorney may have saved the man from possibly going through an expensive and arduous criminal trial or possibly spending time in prison.
Criminal defendants in Wisconsin need expert legal representation at every step of the process. Wisconsin Act 285 can make it harder for criminal defendants to get a fair shake in court, which is why people who stand accused of drug possession or other crimes need the counsel of an experienced defense attorney from the very start.
Source: Juneau County Star Times "Hearing in drug-death case snags on question over new hearsay law," Peter Rebhahn, May 7, 2013