New York Appellate Court Reverses Sentence Based on Violation of Defendant’s Right to Be Present at Sentencing Hearing

New York has enacted certain laws that are designed to protect a defendant’s rights during criminal prosecutions and sentencing.  As seasoned New York criminal defense lawyers, we are well versed in these procedural rules and understand how important it is to ensure that our clients receive the fair and equitable treatment that they deserve. One of these rules requires that a defendant be present at the time a sentence against him or her is pronounced. A recent New York appellate opinion discusses whether this rule applies to the re-imposition of an original sentence.

The background of the case is as follows. The defendant entered a guilty plea to a manslaughter charge and attempted murder charge in 2001. As a result, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for each count, to be served concurrently. At the sentencing hearing, the judge did not mention post-release supervision. It was also omitted from the sentence and commitment order.

In 1998, New York legislators voted to require a mandatory period of post-release supervision for any determinate state prison sentence. Failing to notify the defendant of this term during the plea provided a basis for a defendant to move to vacate a plea. Subsequently, New York courts concluded that any defendant who enters a guilty plea must be informed of the consequences, including the imposition of post-release supervision. The New York Legislature voted to enact an exception to this requirement. Under the law, the notification requirement only applied to determinate sentences imposed between September 1, 1998, and June 30, 2008. Furthermore, the notification must only be provided if a statutorily required PRS term was not pronounced verbally during a sentencing hearing. Stated differently, the law allows the court to re-impose an original determinative sentence without a term of post-release supervision.

In 2009, the defendant moved to vacate his plea, alleging that he was not informed of the post-release supervision term during his plea. During a hearing regarding the issue in 2010, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense both were present, but the defendant was not there. The court denied the defendant’s motion to vacate the plea but did not impose a post-release sentencing term on the defendant. The court instructed the defendant’s lawyer to notify him. The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the defendant was not affected in an adverse way as a result of his absence because the court’s conclusion was in his favor.

On review at the next appellate court, the judges concluded that the defendant’s right to be present when the sentence was announced was violated. The court rejected the prosecution’s assertion that the defendant’s absence had no bearing or impact on the outcome of the hearing, describing the right to be present at sentencing as a fundamental right. The court also noted that the Appellate Division improperly relied on its conclusion that the defendant was benefited by the sentence in deciding that the sentencing court did not commit a reversible error. As a result, the appellate court vacated the lower court’s order and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

If you are part of a criminal investigation or facing a criminal trial, the seasoned and dedicated New York homicide defense lawyers at Tilem & Associates understand exactly what you and your family are going through. We pride ourselves on providing compassionate, timely, and dedicated legal counsel to New York residents and offer a free consultation to help you understand your options. To schedule your appointment, call us at 1-877-377-8666 or contact us online to get started.

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