Defendant was indicted and convicted after trial of the sale of two ounces, 33 grains of cocaine to an undercover police officer on August 1988. The trial testimony established that, in a known drug location, defendant sold the undercover officer 214 vials of cocaine for $2,000 and promised to “take care of” him “the next time” he came.
A New York Drug Possession Crime lawyer said that at the time of the sale she was 17 years old. Conviction of a class A-I felony carries a mandatory indeterminate prison sentence, the minimum of which is not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years, the maximum of which is life imprisonment. The trial court, however, determined that in defendant’s case, imposing even the minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years to life would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The court, therefore, imposed an indeterminate sentence of eight years to life imprisonment. A divided Appellate Division affirmed, the dissenters voting to reverse the sentence and remand the case to Supreme Court for resentencing in compliance with the Penal Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions for an A-I felony conviction.
In a case law, the Supreme Court in an opinion, albeit not without doubts expressed regarding the wisdom of the severity of the sentencing scheme for drug offenses enacted in 1973, upheld the facial and as applied validity of the mandatory maximum life imprisonment sentence and various mandatory minimum prison sentences in that legislation as against challenges under the cruel and unusual punishment prohibitions of the State and Federal Constitutions.
In another case, the Criminal Court adopted the principle that a sentence may constitute cruel and unusual punishment by being ” ‘cruelly’ excessive, that is, grossly disproportionate to the crime for which it is exacted”
The Court recognized that, although not all of the defendants were “hardened” criminals, each was convicted of at least “street” sales or possession of large amounts of narcotics and none was what might be described as merely an “accidental” offender; therefore, we concluded that each could reasonably be considered a serious threat to society meriting severe punishment. Accordingly, the Court found none of the sentences was grossly disproportionate to the crime committed, and concluded that the mandatory imprisonment provisions for drug-related crimes withstood both the facial and as applied challenges to their constitutionality.
To Be Cont…
To complete the analysis to determine whether defendant established the gross disproportionality of her punishment, we examine the extent of her culpability in this cocaine sale and the threat she poses to society. The undisputed evidence in this regard is not overly favorable to defendant. The undercover officer testified at the trial without contradiction that defendant made a direct sale to him, filling his order for 200 vials of cocaine for a price of $2,000 and then knowledgeably haggled with him over the amount of the customary bonus of additional vials, insisting on giving him only 14 over his claim of entitlement to 20 extra vials, but promising to “take care of” him personally “the next time” he came. Her conduct hardly bore the earmark of an “accidental” offender.
Although criminal defendant’s presentence report discloses mitigating factors in her family history, they do not demonstrate such an exceptional level of childhood deprivation that would significantly excuse her behavior. Defendant informed the probation officer who conducted the presentence investigation that “she received adequate supervision and that the quality of the home was decent” during most of her formative years when she was raised by a grandmother in Jamaica, British West Indies.
All of the foregoing factors militate against finding that defendant is the rare case we envisaged in Broadie that, on its particular facts, would present an exception to the general facial constitutionality of the Penal Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions for drug-related offenses. Indeed, based on our assessment of the gravity of the offense she committed and her personal culpability, we could only find defendant’s mandated sentence cruel and unusual punishment by concluding that the constitutional prohibitions prevented mandatory imprisonment for all offenders of defendant’s age. Yet the Legislature has consciously extended the A-I felony mandatory minimums to youths in defendant’s age category. The prevalence of the employment of adolescents to market illegal drugs is now well recognized. Thus, the Legislature could rationally determine that teenage drug dealers pose a serious threat to society. Clearly, defendant has not met her burden of showing any objective basis for us to conclude that contemporary standards of decency prevent imposing a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment upon an older adolescent for a direct volitional sale of more than two ounces of cocaine for $2,000.
Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, and the matter remitted to Supreme Court, New York County, for resentencing in accordance with this opinion.
Use of cocaine is dangerous to our health, it is likewise dangerous to our society since some of cocaine addicts tend to commit crimes.
Here in Stephen Bilkis and Associates, our New York Cocaine Possession attorneys will help you prosecute these drug addicts and put them to rehabilitation centers. For other inquiries, you can also ask our New York Criminal lawyers for an advice.