What is a Post Conviction Motion?

In Wisconsin criminal cases, a convicted defendant has a limited time after sentencing to file a Notice of Intent to Pursue Post-Conviction Relief. Notice this is not a “Notice of Appeal,” rather it reflects that you are going to do something with an appellate lawyer.

That appellate lawyer can do one of three things: (1) for issues that the trial attorney has “preserved,” go straight to a direct appeal, (2) for issues that the appellate attorney thinks the trial attorney failed to preserve, file a post-conviction motion to ask the Circuit Court to consider the issues (thereby making them appealable upon a denial), or (3) do the post-conviction motion and, upon denial, file an appeal. In the third option, the appellate attorney can appeal both issues that the trial attorney already preserved as well as the ones that the appellate attorney brought up in the post-conviction motion.

Appellate attorneys in Wisconsin use post-conviction motions so much because much of the relief afforded in a post-conviction context is through the vehicle of ineffective assistance of counsel. You can not go to direct appeal without having filed a post-conviction motion for ineffective assistance of counsel. Because the majority of overturned convictions are, in some way, premised on an ineffective assistance of counsel argument, the majority of appellate cases go through a post-conviction motion first.

To put it another way, say a defendant suffered an illegal search and seizure, but the trial attorney failed to make the appropriate argument. The appellate attorney can not as a matter of law go directly to the Court of Appeals with the problem. Instead, she has to first allege the trial attorney was ineffective for failing to make the argument. Then, if the Circuit Court denies the post-conviction motion, she can appeal that order, asking the Court of Appeals to rule that the trial attorney was ineffective, and had he made the argument, there is reasonable probability that the defendant wouldn’t have been convicted. If the Court of Appeals agrees, then the relief is afforded through the ineffective assistance of counsel vehicle, even though it is essentially a constitutional claim.

Accordingly, appellate attorneys working criminal cases in Wisconsin should really be called “post-conviction attorneys,” since so much of the work that they do is with post-conviction motions, because of the prevalence of ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

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