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Sentencing Review – Consecutive Sentences – Reviewed as Ordinary Exercise of Discretion

State v. Peter C. Ramuta, 2003 WI App 80, PFR filed 4/3/03
For Ramuta: Peter M. Koneazny, Richard D. Martin, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate

¶22. Ramuta complains that the cumulative terms of initial confinement-thirty-five years, until he turns seventy-six-are excessive. He claims that the trial court did not adequately explain why the sentences for all but one of his crimes should be, to use Ramuta’s word, “stacked.” We disagree.

¶23. As noted, sentencing is in the trial court’s discretion. The burden on a defendant to show an erroneous exercise of discretion is heavy; the trial court’s sentence is presumptively reasonable. State v. Gallion, 2002 WI App 265, ¶¶26-27, 258 Wis. 2d 473, 492-493, 654 N.W.2d 446, 455-456 (“Sentencing courts are ‘presumed to have acted reasonably, and the defendant can only rebut the presumption by showing an unreasonable or unjustifiable basis for the sentence in the record.'”) (quoted source omitted). See also Echols, 175 Wis. 2d at 682, 499 N.W.2d at 640 (“This court is reluctant to interfere with a trial court’s sentence because the trial court has a great advantage in considering the relevant factors and the demeanor of the defendant.”). As we have seen, the trial court considered and explained at great length why it was sentencing Ramuta to thirty-five years of initial confinement.

¶24. Ramuta contends that given his age and health, the thirty-five years amounts to, in effect, a life sentence. That may be true. But it was certainly within the trial court’s discretion to see that as essential to the public’s protection. As noted, the legislature has specifically permitted trial courts to “stack” sentences by authorizing courts to “impose as many sentences as there are convictions.” Wis. Stat. § 973.15(2)(a). “[W] hether to impose consecutive, as opposed to concurrent, sentences is, like all other sentencing decisions, committed to the trial court’s discretion.” State v. Johnson, 178 Wis. 2d 42, 52, 503 N.W.2d 575, 578 (Ct. App. 1993).

Gallion was subsequently reviewed by the supreme court, 2004 WI 42. The new decision may not provide any reason to doubt the result in Ramuta, but if nothing else the court’s requirement that sentencing rationales be reviewed much more closely suggests that a simple assertion of the defendant’s heavy burden is now too facile.

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