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State v. Brandon M. Melton, 2012 WI App 95, WSC review granted 11/14/12

on review of published decisioncase activity

Issue (composed by On Point) 

Whether a circuit court has inherent authority to order destruction of a presentence investigation report (albeit under “unique facts”), after sentencing and entry of judgment.

And as to those unique facts? The PSI at issue contained information about uncharged offenses that the trial court determined “would be prejudicial to Melton as he went through the … the DOC system after sentencing,” COA slip op., ¶4. A second PSI was prepared and used at sentencing, and although the trial court initially ordered the first PSI destroyed, a successor judge modified the order to mandate sealing rather than destruction. The court of appeals concluded as follows:

¶22      The circuit court did not articulate any public policy reasons for rejecting Melton’s request to destroy the entire PSI report, nor does the record reveal any.  Rather, the circuit court concluded only that it lacked inherent authority to order the PSI report destroyed.  We do not agree.[6]  The circuit court has the authority to destroy the first PSI report to prevent confusion as to which PSI report in the file should be used for sentencing.  Courts exercise inherent authority “to ensure the efficient and effective functioning of the court, and to fairly administer justice.”  See Henley, 328 Wis. 2d 544, ¶73.

¶23      It is true that at the time the circuit court modified the order to destroy the first PSI report, and instead ordered that the report be sealed, the original sentencing was completed.  However, Melton’s appeal was still pending and the potential existed for resentencing.  There were two sealed PSI reports in the file, the first report that had been ordered destroyed, and the second report, on which the sentencing court relied.  The existence of two PSI reports in a file presents an opportunity for confusion and injustice.  Even if clearly labeled, the possibility exists that at resentencing the “wrong” PSI report would be used.  Even without considering the DOC’s subsequent use of the PSI reports, it would be reasonable for a circuit court to conclude that the “wrong” PSI report should be destroyed to prevent misuse.  That is certainly a matter of efficient judicial administration and fairness at a potential resentencing, and as such, is within a circuit court’s inherent powers.  See id. 

The State’s argument, at least in the court of appeals, was that although a court has concededpresentencing authority to order destruction of a PSI, it lacks such authority after sentencing: this power is neither provided by statute nor inherent, and would be inconsistent with SCRs dealing with record retention. (St.’s Br., COA, p. 5).

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