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New York Appellate Court Overturns 20-Year Sentence Based on Procedural Errors

black-handled knifeA New York appellate court recently published an opinion discussing the application of youthful offender status. The facts of the case are as follows. The juvenile was 18 years old when he was involved in an incident in which he stabbed a woman repeatedly and cut a bystander. The juvenile was indicted on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault. He then pled guilty in exchange for a promise that his prison sentence would be capped at 20 years in addition to post-release supervision. In the defense counsel’s sentencing memorandum, counsel requested that the court treat the defendant as a youthful offender. The counselor also asked that any statements provided by the victims or their family members be disclosed with the pre-sentencing investigation report.

During the hearing on sentencing, defense counsel objected that he did not receive any victim impact letters with the report. The court denied counsel’s request to receive the statements. Oral impact statements were presented from the victim, the victim’s parents, and an intervening bystander injured during the incident. After the statements, the court remarked on the horrific nature of the crime and the life-long impact that the incident had on the victims and their families. The court made no mention of youthful offender status and imposed an aggregate sentence of 20 years’ prison time and five years’ supervision following release.

The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the decision, remitting the matter to the sentencing court to make a determination based on the record regarding whether the defendant should receive youthful offender status. The Appellate Division had determined that the lower court reviewed witness statements that were not released to the defendant or included in the record, so the reviewing court asked for a list of the statements that were reviewed and a statement of reasons regarding why the statements were not released. According to the sentencing court, the Probation Department provided certain documents to the court based on a promise of confidentiality, leading the court to prevent their disclosure.

On remittal to the sentencing court, the sentencing court indicated that although it did not make a youthful offender determination on the record, it had considered the matter in conjunction with the parties and their counsel. When the case returned to the Appellate Division, defense counsel claimed that the sentencing court failed to provide its reasons for denying youthful offender status. The Appellate Division rejected this argument, finding that the sentencing court did not commit an error by refusing to disclose the documents it deemed confidential. The defendant appealed.

Noting the essential nature of sentencing in criminal proceedings, the appellate court reversed the Appellate Division’s order upholding the lower court proceedings, noting that the defendant was deprived of his chance to respond to information that the court considered when deciding which sentence to impose. This constituted a violation of the defendant’s due process rights.

If you or someone you love is involved in a criminal dispute or investigation, it is critical that you speak to an experienced and confident New York criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Tilem & Associates, our team of dedicated legal professionals will help you ensure that you protect your rights and that you do everything possible to preserve your liberty. We handle a broad range of matters, including assault, weapon crimes, gun crimes, and DUI incidents. To schedule your free consultation to learn more about your legal options and how we may be able to assist you, call us now at 877-377-8666 or contact us online to get started.

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