LOUIS J. CECI, J.
This appeal involves the trial court's sentencing of the defendant as a repeater, pursuant to sec. 939.62, Stats. The circuit court for Wood county, Honorable Fred A. Fink, Circuit Judge, sentenced Richard K. Wittrock as a repeater on April 21, 1981, following the defendant's guilty pleas to four misdemeanor charges, based upon a showing by the state that the defendant had previously been convicted of three misdemeanors within the statutorily prescribed five-year period preceding the commission of the offenses for which Wittrock was sentenced on April 21, 1981. The defendant subsequently petitioned this court for bypass of the court of appeals, pursuant to sec. 808.05, and the petition was granted by this court on March 9, 1984. Because we find that the trial court correctly sentenced the defendant as a repeater based upon his prior misdemeanor convictions, we affirm the circuit court.
The facts in this case are undisputed. On April 21, 1981, the defendant entered guilty pleas in the following three cases: Case No. 4419, involving a battery committed on December 13, 1980, contrary to sec. 940.19(1), Stats. 1979-80; Case No. 11,836, involving a November 26, 1980, disorderly conduct charge, in violation of sec. 947.01; and a third case, No. 11,837, involving criminal damage to property occurring on November 23, 1980, and contrary to sec. 943.01(1), and a December 13, 1980, disorderly conduct charge. The court found the defendant to be a "repeater"
We are faced, then, with one issue upon appeal. It is whether the language "convicted of a misdemeanor on 3 separate occasions," as utilized in sec. 939.62(2), Stats., requires three separate court appearances in order to qualify as a repeater. We hold that it does not.
Section 939.62, Stats., entitled "Increased penalty for habitual criminality," provides in part,
The defendant has argued that the unambiguous, plain meaning of the statute requires that one be convicted of three misdemeanors in three separate court appearances in order to attain the status of a repeater. Alternatively, the defendant argues that should the court find the term "occasion" to be ambiguous, the rules of statutory construction, in particular, the canon of strict construction of criminal statutes, require that the court construe "occasion" to mean a court appearance. State v. Morris, 108 Wis.2d 282, 289, 322 N.W.2d 264 (1982), and State v. Wilson, 77 Wis.2d 15, 28, 252 N.W.2d 64 (1977). Therefore, the defendant asserts that since his prior convictions occurred in only two separate court appearances, or on two separate occasions, the trial court erroneously imposed the enhanced sentences on the defendant, because he did not qualify as a repeater.
The state, on the other hand, has taken the position that the above language should be interpreted to mean that a defendant achieves repeater status once he or she has been convicted of three misdemeanors within the five-year period, regardless of the number of court appearances. The state argues that the term "occasion" unambiguously refers to separate offenses. Therefore, the state maintains that the defendant in this case clearly qualifies as a repeater, because he was previously convicted of three separate offenses of disorderly conduct.
"[T]he court finds that defendant was properly sentenced as an habitual offender because he was convicted of misdemeanors committed on three separate occasions in the five years before his present convictions, as required by Wis. Stat. § 939.62 (1979-80)." (Emphasis added.)
Therefore, the trial court concluded that the language refers to the fact that the three misdemeanors must be committed by the defendant on different dates.
Initially, we would like to stress what is not at issue in this case. As we noted above, the three prior misdemeanors involved in this appeal occurred on different dates and prior to the four offenses for which the defendant was sentenced on April 21, 1981. See, State v. Banks, 105 Wis.2d 32, 45, 313 N.W.2d 67 (1981), and State v. Midell, 40 Wis.2d 516, 527, 162 N.W.2d 54 (1968). Therefore, we must determine whether this qualifies a defendant as a repeater under sec. 939.62(2), Stats., in spite of the fact that the actual convictions occurred in only two separate court appearances. This case does not involve a situation where the defendant has been convicted of two or more misdemeanors arising out of a single continuing course of conduct or transaction. Therefore, we will confine ourselves to the facts of this case and, for purposes of this appeal, we will not address the issue of whether or not a single transaction giving rise to two or more misdemeanor convictions may serve to qualify one for repeater status.
Primary recourse is to statutory language itself. When this court looks at the language utilized in sec. 939.62 (2), Stats., the statute must be interpreted on the basis of the plain meaning of its terms. State v. Derenne, 102 Wis.2d 38, 45, 306 N.W.2d 12 (1981). Nontechnical words utilized in the statutes are to be given their ordinary and accepted meaning when not specifically defined and that meaning may be ascertained from a recognized dictionary. State ex rel. First Nat. Bank & Trust v. Skow, 91 Wis.2d 773, 781, 284 N.W.2d 74 (1979), citing Falkner v. Northern States Power Co., 75 Wis.2d 116, 123, 248 N.W.2d 885 (1977).
We observe that the term "occasion" is not specifically defined in sec. 939.62. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 794 (1977) defines "occasion" as "happening, incident" or "a time at which something happens." This meaning provides little insight into whether the legislature intended occasion to mean the "incident" at which the misdemeanor occurred or, in other words, the commission of the crime, or whether it was intended to relate to the "incident" of the conviction, in other words, the court appearance. Also, the location of the term "occasion" in the statute provides little insight into what the legislature intended by the use of the term. As we noted above, a defendant qualifies as a repeater if he or she "was convicted of a misdemeanor on three separate occasions." Once again, it is not clear whether occasion refers to the time of conviction or time of the crime's commission.
"... it is permissible to look to the legislative intent, which is to be found in the language of the statute in relation to its scope, history, context, subject matter, and object intended to be accomplished."
The challenged phrase in the repeater statute first appeared in sec. 359.12, Stats. 1949, which was created by Laws of 1949, ch. 631, sec. 171. Prior to that time, the repeater statute which had been enacted in 1978 had essentially remained unchanged. See secs. 4736, 4737, and 4738, Rev. Stats. 1878. Section 359.12, Stats. 1949, entitled "Sentence of repeater," provided in part,
"(1) DEFINITIONS. As used in this section, unless context or subject matter otherwise requires:
"(a) `Repeater' means a person convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment, (except escapes under section 346.40 or 346.45(2)), who, within 5 years prior to commission thereof, had been convicted of a felony or on 3 separate occasions during such 5-year period had been convicted of misdemeanors ...." (Emphasis added.)
Because of the similarity in language between sec. 359.12, Stats. 1949, and the present sec. 969.32, we believe the intent behind the 1949 change is relevant to our consideration.
Platz noted that some of the changes in the repeater statute were made to cure deficiencies in the old statute.
"(1) Previous conviction of a felony or three misdemeanors determines a convict's status as a repeater, regardless of what the previous sentence may have been." Id. at 241. (Emphasis in the original.)
The 1949 committee comment utilized similar language.
"The present habitual criminal sections are archaic. The changes made by this revision are radical and are self-evident. Emphasis is shifted from the prior sentence (and the nature of the institution to which sentenced) to the prior crime. (3) (a) is like present 359.14 except that 3 prior convictions of misdemeanors are required instead of one ...." Wis. Stat. Ann. sec. 939.62 (West 1982). (Emphasis added.)
We believe that both Platz's comments and those of the advisory committee indicate that the revised repeater statute shifted focus away from the prior sentence and
We believe that this interpretation is consistent with the legislative intent behind the revision of the repeater statute. As we noted above, the legislature attempted to cure the discrimination which occurred between defendants who received withheld sentences and those who received sentences which were stayed, thus qualifying the latter for repeater status while disqualifying the former. By attempting to cure this discrimination, we cannot conclude that the legislature meant to create another possibility of discrimination, namely, that of avoiding repeater status by merely pleading to more than one misdemeanor in one court appearance, which would constitute only "1 prior occasion." We find this to be an unreasonable construction. Although the defendant argues that the rules of statutory construction require strict construction of criminal statutes, State v. Wilson, 77 Wis. 2d at 28, this court has stated the following concerning an unreasonable construction:
"A court will always reject an unreasonable construction of a statute where a reasonable construction appears, and this is so notwithstanding that the statute is to be strictly construed." Falkner v. Northern States Power Co., 75 Wis. 2d at 124.
We also find this interpretation to be consistent with the policy purpose behind the repeater statutes. In Block v. State, 41 Wis.2d 205, 213, 163 N.W.2d 196 (1968),
"[i]t must be remembered the repeater statute was passed for the very purpose of increasing the punishment of those persons who do not learn their lesson or profit by the lesser punishment given for their prior violations of criminal laws."
Similarly, in State v. Midell, 40 Wis. 2d at 527, we stated,
"Regardless of the particular phraseology of repeater statutes, their inherent purpose is to serve as a warning to first offenders. The infliction of more severe punishment for a repeater is based upon his persistent violation of the law after conviction for previous infractions."
The purpose behind the repeater statute is to protect society from those individuals who are persistent violators and have not profited from the lesser punishments given for previous misdemeanors. Our holding is consistent with this purpose.
By the Court.—The judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.
"(a) A maximum term of one year or less may be increased to not more than 3 years."
We find the Banks case inapplicable to our present construction of the statute. This court did not interpret the phrase "on 3 separate occasions" in that case. Also, we find the language in Banks to be dictum, since the case concerned the construction of sec. 346.65(2) and not sec. 939.62(2), Stats.