In Wisconsin Criminal Cases, “DRI” means Dismissed but Read In. It is important to know what this means if you are considering taking a plea bargain.  Let’s say you got into a bar fight and now have two charges, Disorderly Conduct and Battery. The prosecutor offers you a deal: plead guilty to the battery, and he will DRI the Disorderly. What does this mean?

For starters, it means you are found guilty of the battery because you plead to it. You could face up to a $10,000 fine and 9 months in jail. The Disorderly conduct will be Dismissed — that’s the easy part of DRI.  Once dismissed, it can never be charged again, meaning you can never be found guilty of it, ever. You can never be sentenced to jail for the Disorderly and you can never be fined.

Now for the “Read In” part. When a charge is read in, you are admitting it happened for the purposes of the sentencing in the case. While the judge can’t go over the 9 months jail on the battery, he can give you more jail than he would have had there been no disorderly conduct. So a judge might say, “I was going to give you 3 months on this battery, but because you also committed disorderly conduct, I am going to make it 4.” That is still under 9 months, but you got more because of the read in charge.

But it gets worse. If you get in trouble years from now and are convicted of something else, the judge can go back and look at your record and hold that battery against you again, for the same reason.  Although the passage of time dims the significance of any crime, the “read In” charge never goes away. Even though you were never convicted of it, it will continue to haunt you.

It is easy for attorneys to tell you not to worry about a read in charge. After all, it is getting dismissed, and that’s pretty significant. But you should be aware of the consequences of that DRI charge, because they do have the power to impact your future.


Here is my article in the November, 2009 La Crosse Magazine.

There was a time, not as long ago as you might think, when you couldn’t get a divorce.  Once you were married, you were stuck with your partner, for better of for worse. This is a short column, so I won’t get into all the reasons why divorce was restricted.  Suffice it to say, it was a bad time to be badly married. After centuries of couples enduring bad marriages, the pressure was pretty strong for change. And when it happened, it was dramatic. Think complete 180. Nowadays, instead of divorce being nearly impossible to get, all you have to do is want one. The legal term is “no fault divorce,” and it means you can get divorced if you want to, without giving any reason, even it your ex-to-be wants to keep trying.

So this sounds pretty good at first. No one should be forced to be in a relationship they aren’t happy with, right? Freedom, after all, is what America is about.

But there are downsides too. Most marriages have kids, and the near universal consensus is that divorce is bad for kids, emotionally and financially. Children of divorce are more likely to suffer in their schoolwork, have babies out of wedlock, live in poverty, and be incarcerated. Grim stuff. Divorce isn’t always good for the other spouse either, especially divorced women, who live in poverty in frightening numbers. The social and economic consequences of divorce are enormous. Some estimates state that over $100 billion in tax dollars are devoted to these issues.

On top of this, Wisconsin’s no fault rules have evolved from not just allowing no-reason divorce, but also no-blame property division. Lawyers argue vigorously that bad behavior during marriage – abuse, adultery, financial mismanagement, you name it – is irrelevant when determining the terms of the divorce settlement.  The law emphasizes equal division of property, which is not necessarily the same as fair division. While it is true that bitter fights over money and property won’t help mend a broken heart, too often equal division rewards the spouse who put in less effort or was less responsible in the marriage. Imagine a marriage where one spouse was hard working and the other ran up debts. In the divorce, the hardworking spouse gets half the debts, and the profligate spouse gets half the assets, and maybe some alimony. Or consider the marriage where one spouse has made significant sacrifices to support the other. Or one where one spouse has abused the other.  There is no question that the sacrificing or abused spouse loses in a 50-50 split, because that spouse almost always has a significantly limited future earning ability. An abused spouse usually hasn’t focused on her career, often because the abuser didn’t let her. Under the no fault system, though, as soon as you ask for additional compensation, you will be told that past abuse is not a factor in determining an equal division. But shouldn’t it be?

Some states are experimenting with modified no fault divorce rules that limit “walk-away” cases. Wisconsin is not one of them. The no fault idea has become so ingrained in Wisconsin’s legal community that there is strong resistance to unequal divorces, even when unequal means fair. The exceptions in the Wisconsin laws that allow for unequal distributions are as underused as the typical family’s treadmill. And trying to bring past behavior into the proceedings is frowned on, even though sometimes, to have a fair future, you have to look at the past.  Maybe Wisconsin should consider changes that rebalance some of the priorities in divorce? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the issue.

In 2005, the Bankruptcy laws were overhauled — for the worse in my opinion, because I represent the little guy. The changes were great if you are a Creditor — a bank or car lender. For those who work for a living and sometimes struggle to pay the bills, and sometimes need to declare bankruptcy, the 2005 changes were no good thing. The Supreme Court will soon be hearing a challenge to part of those changes, and may overturn them as unconstitutional.

For the whole story, click here.


In a criminal case, when you hear someone talk about their rights being violated, a good deal of the time the right being talked about is the right “to be free from” unfair or unwarranted searches and seizures.  Under the constitution, searches are always supposed to be done with a search warrant. There are a lot of exceptions to this, and it is the police who have to decide whether an exception is available. If they decide wrong, then your rights have been violated.

For the last umpteen years one exception was that the police could search your car if they arrested you for something, even if you were already cuffed and in the back of a patrol vehicle. This has always seemed like a strange exception to me, because the logic behind it was that the police should be able to search to prevent the arrested person from grabbing a weapon or destroying evidence.  How are you going to destroy evidence if you are in the back of a squad car?

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this rule in a decision called Arizona v. Gant.  Police can no longer search your car “just cuz” when you are placed under arrest.  If they think they have a reason to search, they have to get a warrant, unless some other exception applies. To read more about the Gant decision, read this article from the Arizona Bar magazine, Arizona Attorney.

And remember, never, ever say “Yes” when an officer asks you if it’s okay to search you or your property. When you give consent, you give up your rights.


New rules relating to sentencing and probation revocation today, October 1, 2009. Most of these changes apply only to sentences or revocation filings that occur after today’s date.

Under the new rules, the Earned Release Review Commission (ERRC) will have the authority that used to be with the sentencing court to adjust a sentence of an inmate who has served 75 percent of a term of confinement for Class F to I felonies, or 85 percent of the term for Class C to E felonies.  Also new is Positive Adjustment Time that allows DOC to give credit for days served without rule violations and in compliance with the inmate’s programming.

Early release is added onto an inmates Extended Supervision (ES), otherwise known as parole.

The ERRC, rather than the sentencing court, will from now on consider petitions to reduce a sentence for an inmate with an extraordinary health condition, such as advanced age, infirmity, disability or a need for medical treatment or services not available within a correctional institution.

Inmates incarcerated for a misdemeanor or nonviolent Class F to I felony (except for sex offenders) will also be allowed to petition DOC for early release to ES if they are within 12 months of the end of their confinement time. DOC is to promulgate rules for determining whether bifurcated sentences should be modified under this provision.

If an inmate is revoked off ES, the length of their sentence will no longer be determined by the court. Now, the sentence will be determined by the Judge who did the revocation hearing, or if the hearing is waived, by DOC (probably the agent.) DO NOT WAIVE AN ES REVOCATION HEARING WITHOUT TALKING TO A LAWYER FIRST.

The Challenge Incarceration Program and the Earned Release Program are being expanded.