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State v. Helmbrecht

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District I

December 20, 2016

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Rachel M. Helmbrecht, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment and an order of the circuit court for Milwaukee County, No. 2013CF4711 CLARE L. FIORENZA, Judge. Affirmed.

          Before Kessler, Brennan and Brash, JJ.

          KESSLER, J.

         ¶1 Rachel M. Helmbrecht appeals a judgment of conviction, following a guilty plea, to one count of possession of methamphetamine. Helmbrecht also appeals the order denying her motion for postconviction relief, in which the circuit court denied her request for expungement. We affirm.


         ¶2 On October 25, 2013, Helmbrecht was charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine. According to the criminal complaint, on October 22, 2013, employees at a West Allis hotel responded to a smoke alarm in one of the guest rooms and reported the smell of marijuana coming from that room. Helmbrecht, the occupant of the room, gave West Allis police permission to enter the hotel room. When police asked Helmbrecht to turn over any marijuana in her possession, she pulled out a black case from her purse and told officers the marijuana was '"in here.'" Inside the black case, officers found a marijuana pipe, 0.4 grams of marijuana, a bottle containing the prescription medication Clonazepam, and seven bags containing a total of 1.2 grams of methamphetamine. Helmbrecht told officers that she and her boyfriend found a backpack earlier in the day containing marijuana, pills, and '"little white stuff, or maybe bath salts, or meth.'" Helmbrecht initially told officers that she had a prescription for Clonazepam, but ultimately admitted that she did not have a prescription. She also told officers that she did not take the "white crystalized substance, " but told officers they '"can't bash it until [they] try it.'"

         ¶3 Helmbrecht pled guilty to one count of possession of methamphetamine. In exchange for the plea, the State agreed to recommend six months in jail and to treat as uncharged the read-in offenses of possession of Clonazepam and marijuana referenced in the complaint.

         ¶4 As relevant to this appeal, at the sentencing hearing, defense counsel asked the court to order that Helmbrecht's "conviction be expunged upon successful completion [of her sentence]" because Helmbrecht's nursing career could face "big barriers" "in a CCAP-happy world." After considering the sentencing factors articulated in State v Gallion, 2004 WI 42, 270 Wis.2d 535, 678 N.W.2d 197, the circuit court ultimately imposed and stayed a twelve-month jail sentence and placed Helmbrecht on thirty months' probation with twelve months of stayed condition time. The court rejected the State's recommendation for a six-month jail sentence, noting that Helmbrecht was "in treatment" and was "fully employed right now and has made some changes since this case has been pending." The court also rejected defense counsel's request for expungement upon Helmbrecht's successful completion of her sentence, stating that it "cannot make the finding that society would not be harmed."

         ¶5 Helmbrecht filed a postconviction motion requesting the circuit court to "modify its previous order to reflect that [Helmbrecht] is eligible for expunction." (Some capitalization omitted.) Helmbrecht argued that the criteria set forth by the expunction statute, WIS. STAT. § 973.015 (2013-14), [1] properly applied to her and the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion in denying her counsel's request to make her eligible for expunction.[2] Helmbrecht also argued that the circuit court had a duty to adequately set forth its reasons for denying her request and failed to do so.

         ¶6 The circuit court denied Helmbrecht's motion in a written order stating:

The court has a duty at the time of sentencing to consider the relevant sentencing factors and to provide a rationale on the record for its sentencing decision. The court fails to properly exercise its discretion when it fails to make an appropriate sentencing record....
Expungement is unique because unless an expungement is requested at the time of the sentencing, the court has no duty under section 973.015, Stats., to consider an expungement, even if the person is statutorily eligible for an expungement. If an expungement is requested, the court may grant the request if the court finds that the person will benefit and that society will not be harmed[.]...
[T]he court declines to alter its expungement ruling in this matter under the circumstances of this case. The defendant was found in possession of approximately 23 pills of Clonazepam, a small amount of marijuana and 1.2 grams of methamphetamines packaged in seven individual packs. She told police (falsely) that she had a prescription for the pills. Regarding the methamphetamines, the State informed the court that she cavalierly stated to police, "You can't bash it until you tried it." The defendant was convicted of possession of methamphetamines while uncharged offenses of possession of marijuana and Clonazepam were read in for sentencing purposes. Although this case was the defendant's first adult conviction, her juvenile record included a drug related offense. Too, the sentencing memorandum submitted by the defense indicated that the defendant started taking methamphetamines in 2011 at the age of 22 and "eventually became a psychologically dependent intermittent binge user." Indeed the defendant told the court that she never stopped using [m]ethamphetamines for longer than a month since 2011....
The court considered the serious and addictive nature of the drug involved in this case. The court also considered the defendant's self-professed addiction to the drug and the fact that she brought it into this county ... the court finds that society has a compelling and overriding interest in not only deterring people from using this drug but also in punishing people who bring this drug into this county, which historically has not seen a significant methamphetamine problem. The court finds that those interests would be compromised if this matter were expunged, and therefore, the ...

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