State v. Stenklyft, 2003AP1533-CR.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Citation697 N.W.2d 769,2005 WI 71,281 Wis.2d 484
Docket NumberNo. 2003AP1533-CR.,2003AP1533-CR.
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. David S. STENKLYFT, Defendant-Respondent.
Decision Date09 June 2005

281 Wis.2d 484
2005 WI 71
697 N.W.2d 769

STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Appellant,
David S. STENKLYFT, Defendant-Respondent

No. 2003AP1533-CR.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Oral argument December 7, 2004.

Decided June 9, 2005.

For the plaintiff-appellant the cause was argued by James M. Freimuth, assistant attorney general, with whom on the briefs was Peggy A. Lautenschlager, attorney general.

For the defendant-respondent there was a brief and oral argument by Suzanne L. Hagopian, assistant state public defender.

281 Wis.2d 491

This case is before the

281 Wis.2d 492
court on a motion to bypass, pursuant to Wis. Stat. ? 808.05 (2003-04)1 and Wis. Stat. ? (Rule) 809.60. The State appeals from a Dane County Circuit Court, Daniel R. Moeser, Judge, order, granting the petition of the defendant, David Stenklyft, for sentence adjustment under Wis. Stat. ? 973.195 and an order denying the State's motion for reconsideration


? 2. The State asserts that the circuit court proceeded under an incorrect theory of law in granting Stenklyft's petition. The following issues are presented on appeal: 1) Does ? 973.195 apply to inmates who were sentenced under the first phase of Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS-I), enacted by 1997 Wis. Act 283?; 2) If so, was Stenklyft's petition premature?; 3) If Stenklyft's petition was timely filed, was the circuit court nonetheless required to deny Stenklyft's petition under Wis. Stat. ? 973.195(1r)(c) because the prosecutor objected to the petition?; 4) If the circuit court was required to deny the petition based on the prosecutor's objection, does ? 973.195(1r)(c) violate the separation of powers doctrine or procedural due process?; and 5) If the prosecutorial veto power is unconstitutional, is ? 973.195(1r)(c) severable from the remainder of ? 973.195?

? 3. We conclude, in accordance with State v. Tucker, 2005 WI 46, ?? 22-24, 279 Wis. 2d 697, 694 N.W.2d 926, that ? 973.195 applies to inmates sentenced under TIS-I and that the felony classification system employed by the second phase of Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS-II), under Wis. Stat. ? 939.50, should be utilized to

281 Wis.2d 493
determine the "applicable percentage" of the term of initial confinement an inmate sentenced under TIS-I must serve in order to file a petition for sentence adjustment. That "applicable percentage" is then applied to the sentence originally imposed to determine if the inmate is eligible to file a petition under Wis. Stat. ? 973.195(1g). Id., ? 23. Because the crime for which Stenklyft was convicted is now classified as a Class F felony and there is no dispute that he served 75 percent of the initial confinement portion of his sentence, we conclude that his petition for sentence adjustment was not premature under ? 973.195(1g)

? 4. In addition, we hold that the plain language of ? 973.195 requires the circuit court to dismiss the petition upon the objection of the district attorney. Finally, we conclude that ? 973.195 is not unconstitutional. Section 973.195 does not violate the separation of powers doctrine because it does not intrude upon the judiciary's inherent power to modify sentences. Rather, the statute allows for early release by creating a new power of sentence adjustment that is shared among all three governmental branches. The legislature is entitled to grant the judiciary new discretionary authority subject to enumerated conditions. The legislature, through ? 973.195, simply has provided courts with a discretionary power they previously did not have that is subject to certain conditions precedent.

? 5. Furthermore, ? 973.195 does not violate procedural due process because an inmate has no protected liberty interest in early release from prison through sentence adjustment. The statute creates no legitimate expectation of sentence adjustment because the circuit court's decision to grant sentence adjustment is purely discretionary under the statute and Stenklyft is not entitled to sentence adjustment under any set of facts.

281 Wis.2d 494
? 6. Therefore, because we determine ? 973.195 is constitutional and the district attorney vetoed Stenklyft's petition, we reverse the decision of the circuit court granting his petition for early release and its decision denying the State's motion for reconsideration.2


? 7. In this case we are called upon to interpret ? 973.195 and determine whether certain portions of it are unconstitutional. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that we review de novo. Columbus Park Hous. Corp. v. City of Kenosha, 2003 WI 143, ? 9, 267 Wis. 2d 59, 671 N.W.2d 633. The applicable standards for interpreting statutes have been discussed at length in numerous recent cases and need not be set forth in full. It is sufficient to say that our goal in interpreting statutory provisions is to give effect to the intent of the legislature, which we assume is expressed in the text of

281 Wis.2d 495
the statute. State ex rel. Kalal v. Dane County Cir. Ct., 2004 WI 58, ? 44, 271 Wis. 2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. To this end, absent ambiguity in a statute, we do not resort to extrinsic aids of interpretation and instead apply the plain meaning of the words of a statute in light of its textually manifest scope, context, and purpose. Id., ?? 45-46. A statute is ambiguous if it is susceptible to more than one reasonable understanding. Id., ? 47. If a statute is ambiguous, we may examine extrinsic sources in order to guide our interpretation. Id., ? 50.

? 8. Regarding the constitutionality of ? 973.195, "[t]he statute is presumed constitutional. A court will strike down a statute only when it is shown to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt." Panzer v. Doyle, 2004 WI 52, ? 65, 271 Wis. 2d 295, 680 N.W.2d 666 (citing State ex rel. Friedrich v. Dane County Cir. Ct., 192 Wis. 2d 1, 13, 531 N.W.2d 32 (1995)). Further, "[w]here the constitutionality of a statute is at issue, courts attempt to avoid an interpretation that creates constitutional infirmities. Courts must apply a limiting construction to a statute, if available, to eliminate the statute's overreach, while maintaining the legislation's constitutional integrity." Id. (citations omitted). This court must "indulge every presumption in order to preserve the constitutionality of a legislative enactment." Friedrich, 192 Wis. 2d at 24.


? 9. On August 14, 2000, the State filed a criminal complaint against Stenklyft, charging him with one count of causing great bodily harm by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant,

281 Wis.2d 496
contrary to Wis. Stat. ? 940.25(1)(a) (1999-2000), and one count of causing great bodily harm by operating a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration, contrary to Wis. Stat. ? 940.25(1)(b) (1999-2000). An information was filed on October 17, 2000, alleging the same.

? 10. Subsequently, Stenklyft entered a plea of no contest to the charge of causing great bodily harm by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant, and the State dismissed the remaining charge. Stenklyft was convicted of violating ? 940.25(1)(a) (1999-2000) on November 27, 2000. The circuit court sentenced Stenklyft to two years and six months initial confinement and five years extended supervision, for a total term of imprisonment of seven and one-half years. Stenklyft challenged the effectiveness of his counsel at sentencing, and the court of appeals summarily affirmed the sentence in an unpublished opinion.

? 11. By letter dated March 5, 2003, Stenklyft petitioned the circuit court for sentence adjustment under Wis. Stat. ? 973.195.3 Stenklyft noted that he had served over 75 percent of his sentence and had not received a conduct report.4 In addition, he cited his success in completing alcohol treatment programs, his extensive community service and volunteer work while in prison, and his work with other inmates as reasons for his adjustment request. See Wis. Stat. ? 973.195(b)(1). Stenklyft also noted that he intended to continue his volunteer and community work after release.

281 Wis.2d 497
? 12. At the hearing on the petition, the State objected to Stenklyft's early release and argued that his good behavior would not qualify as a "new factor" and thus should not form the basis for sentence adjustment under ? 973.195. The State noted that while Stenklyft had been a model prisoner, his behavior and efforts at rehabilitation were what is expected of prisoners. Further, the State argued that Stenklyft's original sentence was "somewhat on the low side in terms of confinement initially, based on primarily the seriousness of the nature of the offense being terribly serious, [the victim] losing a leg and so on." In addition, the State brought to the court's attention that it had a right to unilaterally veto the petition, and that its veto should automatically terminate the petition.

? 13. The circuit court discussed concerns it had with the sentence adjustment provision:

But I think a lot of judges around the state view this law with some skepticism ... because there are no standards in the statutes that tell us what we're supposed to be looking at.
I think there is a lot of concern about the absolute veto that a prosecutor's office has, no matter what someone has done in prison. . . .
. . . .
There are some who feel that the statute giving the prosecution absolute veto is unconstitutional, which may invalidate other parts of the Truth in Sentencing laws, while some think just the statute that gives the DA veto is the part that should be stricken as unconstitutional. I'm not reaching those issues today, except to say I don't believe the district attorney can have absolute one hundred percent veto over these cases. There would be no reason to have a provision to file
281 Wis.2d 498
petitions if there was absolute veto. It seems to me there have to be some reasons for

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