RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Motion to Reduce Sentence

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Motion to Reduce Sentence

SUP. CT. R. CRIM. P. 35: Correction, Increase, or Decrease of Sentence

(a). Correction or reduction of sentence. The court may correct an illegal sentence at any time. The court may correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner and it may reduce any sentence when a motion is filed within one hundred and twenty (120) days after the sentence is imposed, or within one hundred and twenty (120) days after receipt by the court of a mandate of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island issued upon affirmance of the judgment or dismissal of the appeal, or within one hundred and twenty (120) days after receipt by the court of a mandate or order of the Supreme Court of the United States issued upon affirmance of the judgment, dismissal of the appeal, or denial of a writ of certiorari. The court shall act on the motion within a reasonable time, provided that any delay by the court in ruling on the motion shall not prejudice the movant. The court may reduce a sentence, the execution of which has been suspended, upon revocation of probation.

(b). Increase in sentence. Within twenty (20) days after the filing of a motion to reduce a sentence, the attorney general may file a motion for an increase in said sentence. The court on its own motion, after the filing of a motion to reduce a sentence, may increase said sentence. Whenever a judge increases a sentence, the reasons for so doing must be made part of the record and must be based on objective information concerning identifiable conduct on the part of the defendant occurring after the time of the original sentencing proceeding.

State v. Brown, 755 A.2d 124 (R.I. 2000). Trial justice increased defendant’s sentence after Rule 35 hearing. R.I.S.C. reversed.

“The record reveals that the trial justice did not cite any evidence to support his decision to increase the defendant’s sentence. It appears form the trial justice’s statement that defendant’s sentence to serve was increased solely in retaliation for defendants having filed a Rule 35 motion…the trial justice violated Pearce’s clear instruction that vindictiveness must play no part in a decision to increase a sentence.” Id. at 125.
“Rule 35 permits a defendant to file a motion to have a sentence reduced within 120 days after the sentence is imposed, or within 120 days after this Court or the United States Supreme Court has affirmed the sentence. Once a defendant files such a motion, the attorney general may file a motion seeking to have the sentence increased. If a motion to reduce sentence has been made, the trial justice also may increase the sentence upon his or her own motion. Decisions concerning Rule 35 motions are within the sound discretion of the trial justice.” Id.
State v. Cote, 736 A.2d 93 (R.I. 1999). “A motion to reduce a sentence is essentially a plea for leniency, and this Court has stated that rulings on such motions lie within the discretion of the hearing justice. The court may grant the motion if it “decides on reflection or on the basis of changed circumstances that the sentence originally imposed was, for any reason, unduly severe.”

State v. Smith, 676 A.2d 765 (R.I. 1996). “In passing on a defendant’s motion to reduce, the sentence is assumed valid. The court is simply asked to reconsider its prior determination. No new facts in mitigation need be presented to the court, although such information obviously will strengthen the motion…The rationale for such a motion we stated is the possibility that with the passage of time, the defendant may find the sentencing justice in a more sympathetic or receptive frame of mind.”

State v. Pacheco, 763 A.2d 971, 983 (R.I. 2001). R.I.S.C. has held that “only when the record unswervingly points to the conclusion that there is no ‘justification’ for the imposition of a sentence that is ‘grossly disparate from sentences generally imposed for similar offenses’ shall we modify or revise a sentence imposed in the exercise of a trial justice’s discretion.” Quoting State v. Crescenzo, 332 A.2d 421, 433 (1975).

State v. Guzman, 794 A.2d 474 (R.I. 2002). Good behavior in prison is expected and does not warrant a reduction in sentence.

State v. Brown, 865 A.2d 334 (R.I. 2005). Trial court erred by denying defendant’s Rule 35 motion without a hearing. Although Rule 35 does not explicitly afford the movant a right to a hearing, “a hearing should be held with respect to such motions absent truly exceptional circumstances” because of the “crucial importance of the right to a hearing in most situations where significant liberty or property interests are involved.” See also State v. Chase, 958 A.2d 147, 148-49 (R.I. 2008) (rejecting the state’s contention that Brown was dicta rather than binding precedent, and reaffirming the defendant’s right to a Rule 35 hearing).

State v. Goncalves, 941 A.2d 842, 848 (R.I. 2008). As an issue of first impression, R.I.S.C. held that “a hearing justice who corrects an illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 35(a) may correct the entire initial sentencing package to preserve the originally intended sentencing scheme, so long as the corrected sentence does not exceed the sentence originally imposed.”

This process, known as re-bundling, occurs “”when one or more components of a defendant’s sentence are held to be illegal and the hearing justice thereafter corrects the entire sentencing package in order to ‘effectuate the original sentencing intent.”” Id. at 847 (quoting United States v. Martenson, 178 F.3d 457, 462 (7th Cir. 1999)). By permitting re-bundling, the R.I.S.C. adopted the majority approach of the jurisdictions that have decided the issue.
State v. Mendoza, 958 A.2d 1159 (R.I. 2008). Life sentence for second degree murder was not without justification or grossly disparate from other sentences for similar offenses, considering that the victim was a young, defenseless boy and in view of the impact on the victim’s family.

“Any comparison of sentences can be misleading, especially if too much reliance is placed on this one factor in assessing whether a sentencing justice was justified.” Even if disparate, what matters is that the sentence was not one beyond the judge’s power to impose, nor was it patently unjustified.” Id. at 1163 n. 4.
“A motion to reduce sentence is not the correct forum for challenging the sufficiency or quality of the state’s evidence.” Id. at 1163.
State v. Coleman, 984 A.2d 650, 655 (R.I. 2009). Defendant was not entitled to a sentencing reduction when he received twelve-and-a-half years in prison for breaking and entering, but his accomplice received only ten years. “Confederates need not receive equal sentences for the same crime.”

State v. Ruffner, 5 A.3d 864 (R.I. 2010). Defendant’s good behavior and rehabilitative efforts in prison were matters to be considered by the parole board – not the trial court in ruling on a motion to reduce sentence. The trial judge reasoned that having “taken advantage of programs” in the early stages of a prison sentence was not a persuasive reason to assume that defendant could be rehabilitated. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

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