The Third Branch
Unique sentencing means interstate videoconference
By Judge John P. Hoffmann, Waupaca County Circuit Court
Judge John P. Hoffmann
I had an interstate sentencing hearing this summer that involved videoconferencing under what I believe are unique circumstances. I thought the story might be of interest to my colleagues.
The defendant, Glendon Gouker, was charged in connection with a 1990 case after a DNA match linked him to the crime. The charge was first-degree sexual assault while concealing identity Gouker had been in the Pottawatomie County Jail in Shawnee, Okla., since 2010 facing charges carrying the death penalty.
He agreed to cooperate with Waupaca County authorities to perhaps help clear up some unsolved crimes, and was brought to Waupaca earlier this year to testify at a John Doe proceeding. While he was here he pled to the 1990 crime The Attorney General's Office prosecuted the case, and wanted to delay sentencing until after Gouker was sentenced in Oklahoma.
Gouker was entitled to be present in the same courtroom as the sentencing judge under 971.04. However, he was willing to waive that right and consent to sentencing via videoconferencing. We complied with the holding in State v. Soto (2010AP2273-CR), which offers guidance on the circumstances under which videoconferencing may be used in plea hearings.
The first hurdle
The videoconferencing equipment in the Waupaca County Courthouse has been out of order for some time. Last summer when it was working I had a mother in a CHIPS case testify via videoconferencing from, ironically, the State of Oklahoma. She was conferenced in from a technical college. That experience gave me the idea to contact Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Waupaca to see if they could accommodate us rather than having to go to another county courthouse. They were very willing to allow us to use their videoconferencing set-up for the sentencing.
Rigging a courtroom
We worked with FVTC representatives in Appleton and Waupaca My judicial assistant and the victim/witness coordinator toured the facility and reported back that the smaller room (a classroom) had better videoconferencing capability so I opted for that room. We placed two tables in a T-shape and I sat at the head and the attorneys were at the other end. There were approximately 15 chairs available but were not needed.
This was a public hearing. We posted notice on the courtroom door and in the third-floor hallway of the courthouse where all daily court calendars are posted. We also contacted the local radio station and newspaper to alert them. The radio station reported the location of the sentencing on the morning news on the day of sentencing.
I wanted to sentence Gouker immediately after his sentence in Pottawatomie County as we were told that once he went into the Oklahoma prison system he would not be available to us. The Pottawatomie County Courthouse and Jail did not have videoconferencing, but authorities there were willing to transport him to the Glen Cooper Technology Center, which is part of a technical college in Shawnee. So we had the sentencing court sitting in one technical college and the defendant in another technical college for a sentencing via videoconference. I believe that could be a first.
I sentenced him to 25 years consecutive to his Oklahoma sentences. Under the law in effect at that time, his crimes carried a 25-year maximum.
In the Oklahoma case, charges of first-degree murder, first-degree rape, kidnapping, sodomy, and additional counts related to drugs and firearms drew four consecutive life sentences plus 70 years for Gouker. The death penalty was not pursued due to his cooperation with Wisconsin authorities.
Fox Valley Tech charged the county $170/ hour, and sentencing took less than one hour but I assume that some set-up time will be included I did sign a contract w/ FVTC. On the week of the sentencing I attended two county board subcommittee meetings to inform the supervisors of what was happening. I didn't want them to read about sentencing and wonder what I was doing, why I was doing it and what it was costing the county. They understood that was cheaper than bringing defendant back and forth between Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
The sentencing went smoothly on our end, but working with Oklahoma was more problematic, simply because of the many details involved in planning – and our inability to be on site to see the set-up. On our end, staff from a number of departments needed to be involved in multiple phone conferences and e-mails to plan this sentencing. This included the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office, my judicial assistant, the Attorney General's Office, FVTC and others
It took a lot to pull this off, but certainly was, in my mind, the best way to approach a unique interstate sentencing hearing.