A man was charged with robbery in the second degree as an armed and violent Class C felony. He pled guilty to a Class D violent felony offense in exchange for a prison sentence of one to three years. At that time, the court agreed to consider an application for a less sentence based on mitigating circumstances. The court later found that there was insufficient mitigating evidence to support a shorter term than he had already received. He then challenged the court’s decision, alleging a violation of his due process rights. The court rejected his claim. At the sentencing hearing, his criminal defense attorney filed another application for a shorter sentence, which was also denied.
The case was then referred to the Supreme Court Appellate Division to address defendant’s constitutional claim. After reviewing New York Penal Law, the court determined that the prison term he received was appropriate and that the lower acted within the boundaries of its discretion in handing down the sentence. Accordingly, his plea arrangement and sentence were affirmed.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Lupiano noted that the statute in question, Penal Law Section 70.02., was in fact constitutional. Furthermore, the judge noted that in pleading guilty to the second degree attempted robbery charge, defendant was fully aware of the sentencing restrictions imposed by law.
The judge went on to cite a Colorado case, Specht v. Patterson, in which a defendant was convicted for indecent liberties with a minor. Instead of being sentenced under the statutory guidelines, another man was sentenced under the Colorado Sex Offenders Act, which allows an indeterminate sentence ranging from one day to life in prison. In that case, the use of the Sex Offenders Act entailed the creation of a new charge which would have required Mr. Specht’s due process rights to be observed.
In the first case, a new charge was not the issue. The question centered on the plea bargain arrangement and the statutory sentencing guidelines that govern it. Under Statute 70.02, the sentencing court was permitted to impose the same sentence on an individual who pleads guilty to a class D violent felony as it would for someone who was convicted by a jury of the same offense. Accordingly, Justice Lupiano concluded that the conviction for second degree robbery and his sentence should be affirmed.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sullivan held that the sentencing court made no attempt to justify the sentence it imposed and that the sentence was outside the scope of its discretion. The judge found that in sentencing him, the court did not take into account mitigating circumstances surrounding his background and lifestyle since committing the crimes. The judge also argued that Penal Law Section 70.02 was unconstitutional because it allowed defendants to be sentenced to an enhanced punishment for an unproven charge without requiring the prosecution to show evidence of the crimes. This effectively equates to a violation of a defendant’s due process rights. Accordingly, Justice Sullivan held that Mr. Felix’s sentence should be reversed and the case remanded for a new sentencing hearing.
While the majority determined that the sentence should be upheld, his criminal defense attorney was able to persuade at least one member of the appellate panel that the sentencing was unfairly imposed. Defendant was fortunate to have such a dedicated legal advocate fighting for his rights.
Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer should be your top priority if you or a loved one has been charged with robbery, sex crimes or other serious offenses. The law office of Stephen Bilkis and Associates specializes in providing legal representation for criminal defendants involved in robbery and sex offense cases in the New York area. Help is available by calling 1-800-NY-NY-LAW or by visiting one of the firm’s numerous office locations. A conviction for robbery, burglary or a sex crime can have life-altering consequences. Contact Stephen Bilkis and Associates today to get the assistance you need to navigate the complexities of the new York legal system.