Wisconsin Supreme Court
Sentencing — mandatory minimums — harmless error
Where the court imposed a sentence under the erroneous belief that the defendant was subject to a mandatory minimum, the error is not structural, but harmless error analysis applies; but the error was not harmless.
“When the circuit court imposes a sentence with the misunderstanding that a mandatory minimum period of confinement applies, the framework for sentencing is thrown off, and the sentencing court cannot properly exercise its discretion based on correct facts and law. Furthermore, this kind of misunderstanding of the law violates the defendant’s due process right to a ‘fair sentencing process’ in which the sentencing ‘court goes through a rational procedure of selecting a sentence based on relevant considerations and accurate information.’”
“We take another factor into consideration in determining harmless error in the present case. With the enactment of truth in sentencing, ‘judges have an enhanced need for more complete information upfront, at the time of sentencing.’ This court has encouraged circuit courts to refer to information provided by others. Yet in the present case, inaccurate information infused the information the circuit court received at sentencing from a variety of sources. When the statements provided to the circuit court at sentencing are based upon inaccurate information about a mandatory minimum period of confinement, the circuit court does not have the benefit of recommendations or discussions based on accurate information.”
Abrahamson, C.J. .
Attorneys: For Appellant: Hagopian, Suzanne L., Madison; For Respondent: Wren, Christopher G., Madison; Zapf, Robert D., Kenosha