High court to grill attorneys in Sixth Amendment case

Case arises from confrontation, standoff with DNR wardens

By Erika Strebel
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
MILWAUKEE — Should a Lafayette County man who was involved in an armed standoff with two DNR wardens on his property have been allowed to present a defense at his trial?

That’s the question before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in State v. Robert Joseph Stietz. The court will be hearing oral arguments in that case and two others on. Feb. 15.

The case before the justices stems from a standoff Robert Stietz, 64-year-old beef farmer, had with two DNR wardens the afternoon of Nov. 25, 2012, the last day of the deer hunting season. According to Steitz’s testimony at trial, he was walking that afternoon along his property, which was a 12-acre fenced parcel in Lamont, during deer hunting season, looking for trespassers. According to court documents, the wardens saw Steitz’s vehicle parked along a fence, looked inside it, saw an empty gun case, and thought he might be deer hunting.

The wardens entered the property, found Steitz and asked him for his rifle, and when he refused, they wrestled it away from him. One of the wardens then drew a pistol and pointed it at Steitz, who drew his own pistol and pointed it at that warden.

The wardens called for back up from the Lafayette County Sheriff's Office, and Steitz was later charged with six criminal offenses, including two counts of pointing a firearm at a law enforcement officer.

Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge James Beer rejected Steitz’s counsel’s request for a jury instruction on self-defense and denied any argument that Steitz had acted in self-defense against trespassers.

The jury acquitted Steitz of four of the six charges, and found him guilty of pointing a firearm at law enforcement and resisting or obstructing an officer. Steitz moved for a new trial, but Beer rejected it and sentenced him in May 2014 to one year of jail plus extended supervision and probation. He has since completed the jail sentence.

Steitz appealed in November 2014, arguing that Beer’s refusal to give the jury instructions on self-defense and trespassing violated Steitz’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. The Court of Appeals in May of last year affirmed Beer’s decision.

Steitz appealed shortly afterward, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to hear the case in October.

Before the high court, Steitz is arguing that his constitutional right to present a defense was violated by the judge’s refusal to instruct the jury on self-defense and trespass. He is also arguing that the appeals court erred in ruling that the Steitz did not have a right to defend himself against the wardens because they were law enforcement officers.

The state is arguing, among other things, that the testimony Steitz presented at trial was not sufficient for Beer to have granted a jury instruction on self-defense and that there was no argument for a jury instruction on trespassing because the standoff happened on an easement outside of the parcel and that wardens are allowed to trespass on private property so long as their actions are reasonable and in their scope of authority.
 

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