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State v. Ciresi

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 6, 2017

Michael Ciresi.

         SOURCE OF APPEAL: Providence County Superior Court (P1-07-1896AG) (P1/06-776A) Associate Justice Robert D. Krause


          For State: Lauren S. Zurier Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: George J. West, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice

         The defendant, Michael Ciresi (Ciresi or defendant), appeals the denial of his motion to reduce his sentence. This case came before the Supreme Court on November 30, 2016, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the parties' memoranda, we are satisfied that cause has not been shown. Accordingly, we shall decide the appeal at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


         Facts and Travel

         The facts underlying this case are set forth in State v. Ciresi, 45 A.3d 1201, 1210 (R.I. 2012), where this Court affirmed defendant's nine-count criminal conviction. Those counts included: burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, use of a firearm when committing a crime of violence, attempted larceny, receiving stolen goods, harboring a criminal, and obstructing justice. Id. The aggregate sentences for all of Ciresi's convictions totaled thirty-five years, with twenty years to serve and fifteen years suspended with probation, to run concurrently, and a ten-year suspended sentence to run consecutively.[1]

         On October 31, 2012, subsequent to our opinion, defendant moved to reduce his sentence pursuant to Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. In his motion, Ciresi asserted that, since beginning his sentence, he has accepted responsibility for his decisions. He noted the numerous programs he has participated in and completed while incarcerated, including one leading to his receipt of a college degree. Ciresi maintained that his efforts to better himself while in prison "are demonstrative of the tenor and extent of his sincerity, his acceptance of responsibility, remorse and resolution to be an honest, useful member of society." The defendant also referenced the hardship of parenting his two sons while in prison.

         Ciresi then argued that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it exceeded the guidelines set forth in the Superior Court Sentencing Benchmarks (the benchmarks). Specifically, he asserted that the sentence for one count of burglary (thirty-five years, with twenty to serve and fifteen suspended) exceeded benchmark 5's sentencing range.[2] The defendant contended that his one-year sentence for receiving stolen goods and his ten-year sentence for attempted larceny also surpassed the guidelines set forth in benchmark 19[3] and benchmark 15, [4] respectively. He argued that "a large departure [from the recommended guidelines] may be viewed as a 'cruel and unusual' [sic] in violation of the Eighth Amendment * * * ." The Defendant also cited to State v. Hall, 940 A.2d 645 (R.I. 2008), for the proposition "that all facts that increased the maximum sentence of a defendant, except for prior convictions, must be found by a jury." Id. at 657 (citing Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 301 (2004)). In this regard, Ciresi argued that his severe sentence was based on the fact that he was a police officer when the crimes were planned and carried out, which was not proved to a jury.

         On May 12, 2014, a justice of the Superior Court heard the parties on Ciresi's motion.[5]His attorney first noted defendant's involvement and participation in various programs while incarcerated. He also asked the court to consider defendant's sons, arguing that "it's a very meaningful part of his life and one that he would very much like to connect with." Before defendant spoke, the hearing justice noted defendant's decision not to allocute at his sentencing because he intended to appeal the decision. Ciresi, appearing via video from prison, expressed regret and shame for his conduct, and said that he accepted responsibility for his actions.

         In a decision dated May 30, 2014, the hearing justice denied Ciresi's motion. He rejected defendant's "rehabilitative advancement while an inmate" as a basis to reduce sentence, because "[p]roper inmate deportment * * * is expected" and also irrelevant in determining a motion to reduce a sentence. The hearing justice also rejected Ciresi's argument concerning the hardship that his incarceration had on his sons, finding that "parenthood is simply not a justifiable excuse for dispensing with meaningful punishment for the commission of serious criminal offenses."

         The hearing justice rejected defendant's contention that his sentence was impermissibly long in comparison to the benchmarks because the guidelines' recommendations are not mandatory. He noted that the benchmarks provide examples where guideline departure is appropriate, and he singled out three as applicable: (1) "circumstances of the commission of the crime, " (2) whether the crime was an "isolated offense, " and (3) "other substantial grounds" that might mitigate or aggravate culpability. With these in mind, the hearing justice noted that defendant did not merely commit an "isolated offense." Rather, Ciresi committed five of the nine offenses on different occasions, planned two burglaries, and provided "tools of violence" for the commission of both. Citing to Ciresi, 45 A.3d at 1214, 1216, he found that defendant's other convictions, coupled with additional bad acts, [6] "demonstrated Ciresi's pattern of cultivating and protecting criminal informants in his role as a police officer for his own financial and professional gain * * * [and] were segments of a common scheme or plan * * * ...

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