State v. Setagord, Nos. 95-0207-C

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Citation211 Wis.2d 397,565 N.W.2d 506
Docket Number96-1264-CR,Nos. 95-0207-C
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. John C. SETAGORD, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner. STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Charles C. DOWNING, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date01 July 1997

Page 506

565 N.W.2d 506
211 Wis.2d 397
STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
John C. SETAGORD, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Charles C. DOWNING, Defendant-Appellant.
Nos. 95-0207-CR, 96-1264-CR.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued March 6, 1997.
Decided July 1, 1997.

Page 507

[211 Wis.2d 401] For the defendant-appellant-petitioner there were briefs by Charles G. Curtis, Jr. and Foley & Lardner, Madison and oral argument by Charles G. Curtis, Jr.

For the plaintiff-respondent the cause was argued by David J. Becker, Assistant Attorney General, with whom on the brief was James E. Doyle, Attorney General.

For the defendant-appellant there were briefs and oral argument by Robert T. Ruth, Madison.

For the plaintiff-respondent the cause was argued by David J. Becker, Assistant Attorney General, with whom on the brief was James E. Doyle, Attorney General.

¶1 JANINE P. GESKE, Justice.

For their roles in a 1991 hostage-taking and attempted jailbreak, John C. Setagord (Setagord) and Charles C. Downing (Downing)

Page 508

received mandatory life sentences, with parole eligibility dates far beyond their respective anticipated life spans. Setagord seeks review of a court of appeals' decision affirming the circuit court's imposition of a parole eligibility date of October 21, 2091. On a motion to bypass the court of appeals, Downing appeals the circuit court's imposition of a parole eligibility date of October 21, 2177.

¶2 Both defendants argue that Wis. Stat. § 973.014(1)(b) does not authorize the circuit court to effectively deny parole by setting a parole eligibility date beyond a defendant's anticipated lifetime. We conclude that § 973.014(1)(b) unambiguously grants the circuit court discretion to impose a parole eligibility date beyond a defendant's expected lifetime. We also [211 Wis.2d 402] conclude that the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in setting Setagord and Downing's respective parole eligibility dates. Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals' decision in the Setagord case, and affirm the circuit court's order imposing sentence in the Downing case.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶3 The relevant facts are not in dispute. Setagord and Downing unsuccessfully attempted to escape from the Dane County Jail with a third inmate, Juan Ruiz, on October 20, 1991. Setagord, Downing and Ruiz took Deputy Julie McReynolds hostage during a jailbreak attempt. During the seizure, both Setagord and Downing struck McReynolds. She was tied up by her hands and feet. Setagord threatened several times to kill McReynolds, and also threatened to break her legs. Deputy McReynolds was released after thirteen hours of confinement, and after sustaining a cut to the head, bruises and a knee injury. During the early part of the escape attempt, Downing struck another deputy several times with a cribbage board.

¶4 The State filed a criminal complaint that charged Downing, Setagord and Ruiz with the Class A felony of taking a hostage, as a party to a crime, in violation of Wis.Stat. §§ 940.305 1 and 939.05; with conspiracy to escape, in violation of Wis.Stat. [211 Wis.2d 403] §§ 946.42(3)(a) and 939.31; and with battery to a police officer in violation of Wis.Stat. § 940.20(2). Because they were repeat offenders, Setagord and Downing were also charged under the penalty enhancement provision of Wis.Stat. § 939.62(1).

¶5 Setagord and Downing each reached plea agreements with the State following a half day of trial testimony on May 19, 1992. Setagord entered a plea of no contest to the hostage-taking charge and guilty to the other two charges in return for dismissal of the repeater allegation on the hostage-taking charge. Downing entered a plea of no contest to the charges in return for dismissal of the repeater allegation on the hostage-taking charge.

¶6 On August 28, 1992, the Circuit Court for Dane County, Robert R. Pekowsky, conducted a sentencing hearing for Setagord. The circuit court sentenced Setagord to life in prison without parole for the hostage-taking charge, and to 11 years for each of the other two charges. Setagord appealed the sentence of life without parole. The court of appeals reversed that sentence, 2 holding that Wis.Stat. § 973.014 (1991-92) did not authorize a circuit court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. The court held that the statute allows the circuit court only two options, either to determine parole eligibility pursuant to the standards under Wis.Stat. § 304.06(1), 3 or [211 Wis.2d 404] to set an alternative

Page 509

parole eligibility date of its own. 187 Wis.2d at 344, 523 N.W.2d 124. On remand for resentencing, the circuit court imposed a parole eligibility date of October 21, 2091. That date was one hundred years from the date of the crimes Setagord committed, as requested by the State. 4 Setagord again appealed.

¶7 The court of appeals upheld Setagord's parole eligibility date. State v. Setagord, No. 95-0207-CR, unpublished slip op., 1996 WL 384535 (Wis.Ct.App. July 11, 1996)(hereinafter Setagord II ). The court held that Wis.Stat. § 973.014(1)(b) permits a circuit court to set a parole eligibility date beyond a person's expected lifetime. Setagord II at 10-11. Because the court found the sentencing statute ambiguous, the appellate court looked to legislative history to discern the legislative intent. Id. at 5. The court found that this history supported the State's view that the circuit court may effectively deny parole by setting a parole eligibility date 100 years in [211 Wis.2d 405] the future. Id. at 9. The court of appeals also held that the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in imposing the 100-year parole eligibility date. Id. at 23. Setagord petitioned for review by this court.

¶8 Like Setagord, Downing was initially sentenced by Judge Pekowsky. At the January 19, 1993, sentencing hearing, the State asked that "Mr. Downing be sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison with no opportunity for parole." The circuit court sentenced Downing to life imprisonment without parole on the hostage-taking charge, to be served consecutively to the sentences he was already serving. In addition, the court sentenced Downing to three consecutive five-year sentences on the remaining charges. Downing appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in imposing a life sentence without parole. The court of appeals reversed, and remanded for resentencing based on its decision in Setagord I. State v. Downing, unpublished slip op., 1995 WL 308616 (Wis.Ct.App. May 18, 1995).

¶9 The circuit court conducted a resentencing hearing on November 8, 1995. At that time, the State asked the court to ensure that Downing never again be a free man. The circuit court agreed to follow the State's recommendation, and sentenced Downing to life imprisonment with a parole eligibility date of October 21, 2177, on the hostage-taking charge. The circuit court also reimposed the five-year consecutive sentences on the other charges. Downing again appealed, arguing that Wis.Stat. § 973.014(1)(b) did not authorize a parole eligibility date beyond his expected lifetime. We granted Downing's petition to bypass the court of appeals.

¶10 The principal question presented by both Setagord and Downing involves interpretation of a [211 Wis.2d 406] statute, a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Eichman, 155 Wis.2d 552, 560, 456 N.W.2d 143 (1990). The purpose of statutory interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature. Id. To do so, we first consider the language of the statute. If the language of the statute clearly and unambiguously sets forth the legislative intent, we apply that intent to the case at hand and do not look beyond the statutory language to ascertain its meaning. Kelley Co., Inc. v. Marquardt, 172 Wis.2d 234, 247, 493 N.W.2d 68 (1992); UFE Inc. v. LIRC,

Page 510

201 Wis.2d 274, 281-82, 548 N.W.2d 57 (1996).

¶11 Setagord contends that Wis.Stat. § 973.014(1)(b) is ambiguous, and when properly construed, requires an earlier parole eligibility date. Downing takes a different approach, but reaches the same result. Downing contends that the statute is unambiguous, and clearly requires meaningful parole eligibility. The State asserts that the statute is unambiguous. Under the State's reading, the term "any later date" can include a parole eligibility date beyond the defendant's expected lifetime.

¶12 A statute is ambiguous when it is capable of being understood in two or more different senses by reasonably well-informed persons. Wagner Mobil, Inc. v. City of Madison, 190 Wis.2d 585, 592, 527 N.W.2d 301 (1995). However, a statute is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties disagree as to its meaning. Id. If a statute is ambiguous, we look to the scope, history, context, subject matter, and object of the statute in order to ascertain legislative intent. However, resort to legislative history is not appropriate in the absence of a finding of ambiguity. See Cynthia E. v. [211 Wis.2d 407] LaCrosse County Human Services Dep't, 172 Wis.2d 218, 229, 493 N.W.2d 56 (1992).

¶13 These cases present a question of first impression. We upheld Wis.Stat. § 973.014(1)(b) against a constitutional challenge in State v. Borrell, 167 Wis.2d 749, 759, 482 N.W.2d 883 (1992). Now we are asked to determine whether the legislature intended to authorize a sentencing court to set a parole eligibility date beyond a defendant's expected lifetime. If we conclude that the statute authorizes parole eligibility determinations that afford no possibility of parole, Setagord and Downing ask that we then conclude that the sentencing court erroneously exercised its discretion in setting their parole eligibility dates.

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

¶14 We begin with the premise that sentencing is a matter of legislative policy. In Matter of Judicial Administration Felony Sentencing Guidelines, 120...

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176 practice notes
  • State v. Stenklyft, No. 2003AP1533-CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 9, 2005
    ...502 (1992). 29. Friedrich, 192 Wis. 2d at 14. 30. State v. Borrell, 167 Wis. 2d 749, 767, 482 N.W.2d 883 (1992). 31. State v. Setagord, 211 Wis. 2d 397, 407, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997) (citing In Matter of Judicial Administration Felony Sentencing Guidelines, 120 Wis. 2d 198, 203, 353 N.W.2d 793......
  • Bostco Llc v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist., Nos. 2007AP221
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • May 24, 2011
    ...Menard, Inc., 224 Wis.2d 174, 189, 589 N.W.2d 395 (1999) (statutes should be construed so as to avoid absurd results); State v. Setagord, 211 Wis.2d 397, 427, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997) (“Statutes are to be construed to avoid rendering any part of the statute meaningless or superfluous.”). To pr......
  • City of Janesville v. Cc Midwest, Inc., No. 2004AP267.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 11, 2007
    ...is a question of law that we review independently. State v. Reed, 2005 WI 53, ¶ 13, 280 Wis.2d 68, 695 N.W.2d 315; State v. Setagord, 211 Wis.2d 397, 405-06, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997). B. Relocation Assistance10 ¶ 15 The relocation assistance benefits to which property occupiers may be entitled......
  • State v. Byrge, No. 97-3217-CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 13, 2000
    ...you would be 120 years old. A court may impose a parole eligibility date beyond the expected lifetime of a defendant. State v. Setagord, 211 Wis. 2d 397, 414, 565 N.W.2d 506 24. Wisconsin Stat. § 973.014 became effective on July 1, 1988, and applies to crimes committed on or after that date......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
176 cases
  • State v. Stenklyft, No. 2003AP1533-CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • June 9, 2005
    ...502 (1992). 29. Friedrich, 192 Wis. 2d at 14. 30. State v. Borrell, 167 Wis. 2d 749, 767, 482 N.W.2d 883 (1992). 31. State v. Setagord, 211 Wis. 2d 397, 407, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997) (citing In Matter of Judicial Administration Felony Sentencing Guidelines, 120 Wis. 2d 198, 203, 353 N.W.2d 793......
  • Bostco Llc v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist., Nos. 2007AP221
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • May 24, 2011
    ...Menard, Inc., 224 Wis.2d 174, 189, 589 N.W.2d 395 (1999) (statutes should be construed so as to avoid absurd results); State v. Setagord, 211 Wis.2d 397, 427, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997) (“Statutes are to be construed to avoid rendering any part of the statute meaningless or superfluous.”). To pr......
  • City of Janesville v. Cc Midwest, Inc., No. 2004AP267.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 11, 2007
    ...is a question of law that we review independently. State v. Reed, 2005 WI 53, ¶ 13, 280 Wis.2d 68, 695 N.W.2d 315; State v. Setagord, 211 Wis.2d 397, 405-06, 565 N.W.2d 506 (1997). B. Relocation Assistance10 ¶ 15 The relocation assistance benefits to which property occupiers may be entitled......
  • State v. Byrge, No. 97-3217-CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 13, 2000
    ...you would be 120 years old. A court may impose a parole eligibility date beyond the expected lifetime of a defendant. State v. Setagord, 211 Wis. 2d 397, 414, 565 N.W.2d 506 24. Wisconsin Stat. § 973.014 became effective on July 1, 1988, and applies to crimes committed on or after that date......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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