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Equal Protection – Differential, County-Based Sentencing Guidelines

State v. Roland Smart, 2002 WI App 240, PFR filed 9/24/02
For Smart: Donald T. Lang, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether sentencing-guideline disparity for driving while intoxicated under guidelines adopted by local counties pursuant to § 346.65(2m) violates equal protection or due process.

Holding: Sentencing guideline disparities need be supported only by rational basis for equal protection purposes, as “(i)t is not a fundamental right to be free from deprivations of liberty as a result of arbitrary distinctions.” ¶6. The guidelines’ function is to reduce sentencing disparity among persons who commit similar offenses. Although “the statute may not be the best way of reducing drunk driving sentencing disparity, a rational basis inquiry does not require perfection.” The statute thus need only bear “some relationship to advancing” its goal; this one does — though a statewide system might be more equitable — because it attempts to reduce disparity within judicial districts. ¶7. The analysis for substantive due process is the same. ¶12.
(Note: The statute is supposed to reduce, but is effectuated so as to increase, disparity. The court finesses this problem by focusing on reduced disparity within, while ignoring increased disparityacross, districts. Why isn’t it arbitrary for someone to get more time simply because he or she was picked up just on one side of a county line?

Update: Holding approved, State v. Patty E. Jorgensen, 2003 WI 105.)

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