Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds conviction of inmate who was ordered to show platinum teeth

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MADISON, Wisconsin — A Milwaukee judge properly ordered a jail inmate to display his platinum teeth in court to verify an investigator's testimony, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday.

Jurors convicted Ramon Gonzalez in 2008 of helping other Milwaukee County jail inmates beat fellow prisoner Frederick Brown. An investigator testified that Brown told him a man with platinum teeth was involved in the beating and the investigator thought Gonzalez had platinum teeth.

Prosecutors asked Gonzalez to show his teeth to the jury. Gonzalez's attorney objected but the judge overruled it. Gonzalez smiled, revealing his platinum teeth.

Gonzalez contended in an appeal that he was compelled to incriminate himself in violation of his constitutional rights. He said showing his teeth amounted to testimony that communicated a fierce appearance, signaling he was more likely to assault someone.

Justice Patrick Crooks wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said a defendant's distinguishing characteristics can be used against him. A person can't be compelled to give spoken testimony that would incriminate him but it doesn't extend to his body as evidence, leading courts to hold that a defendant can be forced to show his body, Crooks noted.

Gonzalez's teeth didn't communicate anything to the jury about his mental state and are no different than other non-testimonial evidence such as tattoos, scars or muscular arms, Crooks wrote.

"It is simply untenable to assert that a central piece of identifying evidence is not material in a case like this," Crooks wrote.

Gonzalez's attorney, public defender Kaitlin Lamb, didn't immediately return a telephone message.

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