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Sentencing – Review — Harshness — Exceeding Life Expectancy

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

Issue/Holding: Sentence of initial confinement of 35 years not excessive:

¶25. Although we recognize that trial courts should impose “‘the minimum amount of custody'” consistent with the appropriate sentencing facts, State v. Hall, 2002 WI App 108, ¶8, 255 Wis. 2d 662, 671, 648 N.W.2d 41, 45 (quoted source omitted), “minimum” does not mean “exiguously minimal,” that is, insufficient to accomplish the goals of the criminal justice system-each sentence must navigate the fine line between what is clearly too much time behind bars and what may not be enough. Without an elaborate system of sentencing grids, like there is in the federal system, no appellate-court-imposed tuner can ever modulate with exacting precision the exercise of sentencing discretion. See Gallion, 2002 WI App 265 at ¶9, ___ Wis. 2d at ___, 654 N.W.2d at 450. The trial court here, unlike the trial court in Hall, 2002 WI App 108 at ¶12, 255 Wis. 2d at 674, 648 N.W.2d at 46, explained its rationale at great length and with full and careful exposition: it put “on the record the relevant and material factors” that informed its decision; it did not rely on any improper factors; and it did not give “too much weight” to “one factor [in] the face of other contravening considerations.” Id., 2002 WI App 108 at ¶9, 255 Wis. 2d at 671-672, 648 N.W.2d at 45 (internal quotation marks omitted). It also recognized specifically that it was sentencing Ramuta under the truth-in-sentencing law, where the thirty-five years, with de minimis exceptions not material here, meant that Ramuta would spend at least thirty-five years in prison, provided he lived that long.¶26. The trial court did not erroneously exercise its sentencing discretion. Further, in light of all the reasons given by the trial court as to why it believed Ramuta’s sentence was necessary, we cannot say that thirty-five years of initial confinement is beyond the pale of what a civilized community would view as reasonable. See Ocanas v. State, 70 Wis. 2d 179, 185, 233 N.W.2d 457, 461 (1975).

At the time this case was decided, review in Gallion was pending, as the court noted, albeit with a hint of skepticism that appellate courts would be given “broader authority” to review sentencing decisions, ¶26 n. 3. As it turns out, the supreme court indeed directed appellate courts to look much more closely at sentences, 2004 WI 42, ¶4. This doesn’t mean that the result in Ramuta is discredited, especially given that the trial court “explained its rationale at great length and with full and careful exposition.” But it does mean that the reviewing court’s focus is indeed on the sentencing rationale, and not on disdain toward the prospect of “modulat(ing) with exacting precision the exercise of sentencing discretion.”

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