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Resentencing required where judge relied on erroneous information, erroneously exercised discretion

State v. Thomas G. St. Peter, 2016AP683-CR, District 1, 4/18/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

St. Peter is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the judge violated his due process rights when it relied on inaccurate information to jump the parties’ joint recommendation for time served and impose more jail time. State v. Tiepelman, 2006 WI 66, 291 Wis. 2d 179, 717 N.W.2d 1 (sentencing based on inaccurate information violates due process). Not only that, but the judge erroneously exercised his sentencing discretion by failing to link the relevant facts and factors of the case to the standard sentencing objectives. —And you thought an erroneous exercise of sentencing discretion was as mythical a beast as a unicorn!

St. Peter was charged with obstructing after he lied to police about the circumstances leading to the theft of his car. He told them he’d been carjacked at gunpoint; in fact, the car was taken by Wright, from whom St. Peter was buying heroin, but for obvious reasons St. Peter didn’t initially tell police he had been buying drugs when the theft happened. He came clean when the police arrested Wright, who confessed he’d taken the car during a drug deal. During sentencing the judge was confused about the facts, at one point calling Wright (who had been charged with operating without owner’s consent) an innocent person framed by St. Peter; even after this mistake was corrected by defense counsel, the court referred to St. Peter using the system for “personal vengeance” against someone who victimized St. Peter. (¶¶2-10).

Overall, the court of appeals holds, the record shows that despite defense counsel’s corrections, the sentencing judge did not understand the facts of the case:

¶23     …[T]he trial court’s description of Wright having been “framed” does not comport with the facts. Rather, it appears to have been borne from the trial court’s initial misunderstanding as to the facts of the case, as well as the State’s misguided statement to the court. Furthermore, although counsel attempted to correct these misperceptions, the trial court continued to make statements that inaccurately reflected the facts of the case, and this seems to have had an impact on the sentence imposed. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court was still relying on the above-described inaccurate information regarding this case when it sentenced St. Peter and, as a result, a due process violation occurred.

Further, the sentencing court didn’t address the relevant sentencing factors as required by McCleary v. State, 49 Wis. 2d 263, 182 N.W.2d 512 (1971), and State v. Gallion, 2004 WI 42, 270 Wis. 2d 535, 678 N.W.2d 197:

¶28     In our review of the record, we do not find that the trial court made the required linkage between the relevant facts and factors of the case and the sentencing objectives. Instead, the trial court hones in on one particular objective, the gravity of the offense, and proceeds with a recitation about using the criminal justice system to exact personal vengeance. However, this scolding by the trial court appears to virtually ignore the basic facts of the case: that St. Peter was an addict on probation from a previous drug charge who was trying to buy drugs when his car was stolen; that his car was stolen by his drug dealer; and that he lied to police about the manner in which his car was stolen because he did not want the police, or his probation agent, to discover that he had been trying to buy drugs when the theft of his car occurred. Furthermore, the trial court’s perception of the gravity of the offense was skewed by its apparent inaccurate understanding of the facts of the case, as discussed above.

Note that while St. Peter’s postconviction motion asked for sentence modification and that he made some “new factor”-type claims, his main arguments are about inaccurate information and an erroneous exercise of discretion, and those errors generally must be remedied by resentencing; indeed, in the court of appeals he specifically requested resentencing. (¶¶13-16). The difference, of course, is that resentencing may (if the facts justify it) lead to an increased sentence, while a new-factor sentencing modification limits the judge to reducing the sentence or leaving it as it is. This is a distinction to keep in mind when deciding how to challenge a sentence and what relief to ask for.

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