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Sentencing – Factors – Victim’s Good Character

State v. Curtis E. Gallion, 2004 WI 42, affirming 2002 WI App 265
For Gallion: Randall E. Paulson, SPD, Milwaukee App
Amici: Robert R. Henak, WACDL; Walter J. Dickey, et al., UW Law School

Issue/Holding:

¶63. Gallion’s next claim on appeal is that the circuit court erred in placing undue emphasis on the character of the victim. …¶64. Under Wisconsin law, victims have certain rights at sentencing. … The only limitation on the victim’s ability to make a statement is that it must be relevant to the sentence. …

¶65. One type of information that appears to be relevant is that which relates to the impact of the crime on the victim or victim’s family. …

¶68. We reject Gallion’s assertion that the good character of the victim is irrelevant. The circuit court possesses wide discretion in determining what factors are relevant to its sentencing decision. State v. Echols, 175 Wis. 2d 653, 683, 499 N.W.2d 631 (1993). Here, it determined that Brown’s good character and the loss her death caused her family, friends, and co-workers, were both relevant and appropriate considerations in assessing the gravity of the offense. …

¶69. Similarly, we reject Gallion’s admonition that acknowledging the positive contributions of one victim will devalue the worth of victims who do not have family or friends to speak for them. We fail to see how one necessitates the other.

¶70. In doing so, however, we are mindful of the dangers in measuring a victim’s comparative worth. …

The court of appeals had distinctly held “that a victim’s character may be considered as part of one of the three primary sentencing factors: gravity of the offense,” stressing that this view is a”logical corollary” to victims’ rights legislation. “Taking this case as an example, it is impossible to convey the loss suffered by Vanessa Brown’s family members, friends, employer, and the community generally without commenting on Brown’s fine character. It is precisely because of her outstanding character that the loss is so great.” 2002 WI App 262, ¶¶16-17. The supreme court doesn’t go that far, simply assigning consideration to the sentencing court’s general discretionary authority.

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