People v. Coleman
2014 NY Slip Op 07010
New York Court of Appeals
Decided on: October 16, 2014
Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer
Issue: Whether the Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 re-sentencing exclusion applies to all offenders who are ineligible to receive a merit time allowance, including those who cannot receive those allowances solely by virtue of their recidivist sentencing adjudications; or whether it applies only to offenders who have been convicted of certain serious crimes that are specifically listed in Correctional Law §803(1)(d)(ii) which eliminates the possibility of a merit time allowance regardless of an offender’s recidivist sentencing adjudications.
Summary: Defendant was convicted, after a jury trial, of two counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance. Based on Defendant’s prior felony convictions, the trial court exercised its discretion to adjudicate Defendant a predicate felony offender. The Appellate Division for the Third Department affirmed Defendant’s conviction and a Judge of the Court of Appeals denied him leave.
Defendant filed a motion in County Court for re-sentencing pursuant to the 2009 Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA) contending that he met all of the statutory eligibility requirements and should be re-sentenced under CPL 440.46(5). The People opposed Defendant’s re-sentencing application on the theory that he was serving a sentence on a conviction for an “exclusion offense”, which rendered him ineligible for re-sentencing, CPL 440.46(5). County Court denied Defendant’s motion on the ground that he was ineligible for re-sentencing under the statute and Defendant appealed to the Appellate Division where they reversed and remitted the matter to County Court for further proceedings.
Upon remittal, Defendant submitted additional papers stating that he was eligible for re-sentencing under the 2009 DLRA because he was not serving a sentence upon a conviction for, nor did he have a predicate felony conviction for, any statutorily defined exclusion offense that would make him ineligible for re-sentencing. County Court denied, finding Defendant ineligible for re-sentencing.
The Appellate Division reversed, stating that Defendant met the basic eligibility requirements for re-sentencing under the 2009 DLRA, and had no conviction for an exclusion offense, therefore, he was eligible for re-sentencing. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s order and held that Defendant was eligible for re-sentencing under the 2009 DLRA.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the exclusion applies only to offenders who have been convicted of one or more of the serious crimes that automatically render merit time allowances unavailable under Correction Law §803(1)(d)(ii), and therefore, an offender who has no such conviction may be re-sentenced, notwithstanding his or her adjudication as a persistent violent felony.
Correction Law §803(1)(d)(ii) makes a merit time allowance unavailable by precluding re-sentencing only for individuals whose offenses are so serious as to make it impossible for them to receive a merit time allowance under the Correction Law.
A re-sentencing exclusion applies solely to a Defendant who has been convicted of a crime that absolutely prevents him or her from obtaining a merit time allowance, regardless of sentencing status, because the re-sentencing exclusion is based on the nature of the Defendant’s offense rather than his or her sentence.
Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that a Defendant who meets the basic statutory eligibility requirements is eligible for re-sentencing unless he or she is serving a sentence on a conviction for, or has a predicate felony conviction for an exclusion offense under CPL 440.46(1). A Defendant is ineligible for re-sentencing if, he or she has previously been convicted of an “offense” that prevents the Defendant from receiving a merit time allowance, CPL 440.46(5)(a). Here it is undisputed that Defendant met the basic statutory eligibility requirements. Therefore, Defendant’s eligibility for re-sentencing turns to whether he was convicted of an “exclusion offense.” Under CPL 440.46(5)(a)
CPL 440.46(5) defines an exclusion offense as: a crime for which the person was previously convicted within the preceding ten years, excluding any time during which the offender was incarcerated for any reason between the time of commission of the previous felony, and the time of commission of the present felony, which was: (i) a violent felony offense as defined in Penal Law §70.02; or (ii) any other offense for which a merit time allowance is not available pursuant to Correction Law § 803(1)(d)(ii).
Correction Law § 803(1)(d)(ii), describes the circumstances that a Defendant may receive a merit time allowance, stating:
A merit time allowance shall not be available to any person serving an indeterminate sentence authorized for an A-1 felony offense, other than an A-1 felony offense defined in Penal Law article 220 (drug offenses), or any sentence imposed as defined in Penal Law §70.02 (violent felony offenses) which are, manslaughter in the second degree, vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, criminally negligent homicide, incest, or an offense defined in Penal Law article 263(sexual performance by a child), or aggravated harassment of an employee by an inmate, Correction Law §803 (1)(d)(ii).
Correction Law §803 (1)(d)(ii) makes a merit time allowance unavailable to a Defendant who has been adjudicated a persistent felony offender.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the Appellate Division Third Department in People v. Coleman, 110 AD3d at 77-78, where it was held that the re-sentencing exclusion applies solely to a Defendant who has been convicted of a crime that absolutely prevents him or her from obtaining a merit time allowance, regardless of sentencing status, because the re-sentencing exclusion is based on the nature of the Defendant’s offense rather than his or her sentence.
The language suggests that a Defendant has a conviction for an exclusion offense only if the Defendant’s offense, (ie., his or her criminal conduct), Penal Law §10.00(1), constitutes a crime that necessarily causes a person convicted of it to lose any chance of obtaining a merit time allowance.
On the other hand, the same clause’s citation to Correction Law § 803(1)(d)(ii) prevents a Defendant from obtaining a merit time allowance based on the sentence authorized or imposed for his of her offense .
The Court of Appeals held, in choosing between these two readings, they are guided by the guideline that the plain terms of the Drug Law Reform Act of 2009(DLRA), like any statute, should be interpreted in a manner that effectuated the intent of the legislature, People v. Mitchell, 15 NY3d 93, 97 2010.
Although there is virtually no official legislative history of re-sentencing exclusion at issue here, the Court may look to the broader purpose of the DLRA as a whole for guidance and divining the meaning of exclusion. The Court of Appeals has made clear when the Legislature enacted the 2009 DLRA, it sought to improve the excessive punishments meted out to low-level, non-violent drug offenders under the so called “Rockefeller Drug Laws”, and therefore the statute is designed to spread relief as widely as possible, within the bounds of reason, to its intended beneficiaries.
The Court held that it is reasonable that the Legislature cited Correction Law §803(1)(d)(ii) to prevent the re-sentencing of offenders who, by their commission of the most violent and sexual offenses mentioned in that statue, have shown themselves undeserving of re-sentencing.
When viewed in context, the merit time related exclusion follows the offense based approach of the other exclusions by precluding re-sentencing only for individuals whose offenses are so serious as to make it impossible for them to receive a merit time allowance under the Correction Law. Adding, while a Defendant convicted of a class A-1 felony or any other serious crimes mentioned (drug offenses) cannot be re-sentenced under the 2009 DLRA, yet, persistent felony offenders who have no such convictions are eligible for re-sentencing.
Here, the Court of Appeals concluded that Defendant has never been convicted of any of the crimes which eliminate the possibility of a merit time allowance under Correction Law § 803(1)(d)(ii) within the relevant time period, and he meets all other eligibility criteria under 2009 DLRA. Therefore, the Court concluded that Defendant is eligible for re-sentencing.