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Defendant Can Not Revisit Past Violent Felony For The Possibility Of Youthful Offender Status


prior violent felony deemed second violent felony offender appeals

People v. Meckwood

20 NY3d 69

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: October 25, 2012

The Equal Protection Clause Of The New York State Constitution Is Not Violated By The Tolling Statute Under New York Penal Law§ 70.04

Summary: Defendant was convicted of attempted robbery and was adjudicated a second violent felony offender based upon his 1999 Pennsylvania conviction for first-degree burglary. Defendant was then 18 years old and was not entitled to youthful offender status pursuant to Pennsylvania laws. Prior to sentencing, Defendant objected to the use of his prior burglary conviction in Pennsylvania as a predicate violent felony arguing that, had he committed the crime in New York, he would have been eligible for consideration as a youthful offender and thus, could not be used as a predicate conviction. The court rejected Defendant’s argument and adjudicated him a second violent felony offender. The Appellate Division affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal..

The Court of Appeals held that Defendant did not receive youthful offender treatment for the underlying offense at issue and he is not now entitled to a retroactive application of youthful offender status to a foreign felony conviction. The county court properly assigned the same status to the underlying conviction, as did the foreign jurisdiction in which the conviction had been entered. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

See Also: Notes From The Jury: Contents Of The Note Determines Judge’s Obligation To Apprise Defense Counsel

Issue: Whether or not Defendant should be deemed a second violent felony offender when one of his prior convictions occurred outside of New York but had it occurred inside of New York, he might have been given youthful offender status and that youthful offender adjudication would not count as a prior violent felony offender. Also, whether the Toll provision of Penal Law § 70.04 violates the Equal Protection Clause od the New York State Constitution.

Holding: Yes. A Defendant with a prior foreign conviction should be deemed a second violent felony offender. The Court of Appeals held that pursuant to Penal Law §70.04, a person may receive an enhanced sentence as a second violent felony offender where the prior conviction occurred in a foreign jurisdiction and the underlying offense has all of the essential elements of a violent felony if it had occurred in New York. New York Court’s have declined to retroactively assign youthful offender status to underlying convictions of foreign jurisdictions even though, had the crimes been committed in New York, such consideration could have been granted.

The tolling provision of §70.04 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the New York State Consitution. Penal Law § 70.04 (1) (b) prohibits enhanced sentencing where more than 10 years have passed between sentencing for the prior felony and commission of the present felony, excluding all periods of incarceration during such time period. While the tolling provision, as applied to persons with differing years of incarceration, may result in disparate punishment, however, there is no equal protection violation under out Constitution.

Facts: Defendant was convicted of attempted robbery and was adjudicated a second violent felony offender based upon his 1999 Pennsylvania conviction for first-degree burglary. Defendant was then 18 years old and was not entitled to youthful offender status pursuant to Pennsylvania laws. Prior to sentencing, Defendant objected to the use of his prior burglary conviction in Pennsylvania as a predicate violent felony arguing that, had he committed the crime in New York, he would have been eligible for consideration as a youthful offender and thus, could not be used as a predicate conviction. The court rejected Defendant’s argument and adjudicated him a second violent felony offender. The Appellate Division affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that Defendant’s prior foreign conviction qualified him as a second violent felony offender in the state of New York. The prior conviction occurred in a foreign jurisdiction and the underlying offense had all of the essential elements of a violent felony had it occurred in the State of New York. It has well been settled that foreign convictions have the same force and effect in New York that they would have where entered when accessing whether a Defendant is subject to multiple offender status. People v. Kuey, 83 NY2d 278, 284 1994.

     Defendant argues that his prior felony conviction could have been afforded youthful offender treatment had the offense been committed in New York. Defendant did not receive a youthful offender treatment for the underlying offense in Pennsylvania. In New York, a prior adjudication as a youthful offender, whether it occurred in New York or another jurisdiction, cannot serve as the basis for multiple offender sentencing provided the foreign youthful offender adjudication is similar to and consistent with New York’s youthful offender treatment. New York courts however, have declined to retroactively assign youthful offender status to underlying convictions of foreign jurisdictions even though, had the crimes been committed in New York, such consideration could have been granted.

Defendant also argues that Penal Law § 70.04 (1) (b) that provisions the 10- year look back period while a person is incarcerated, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New York State Constitution. Penal Law § 70.04 (1) (b) prohibits enhanced sentencing where more than 10 years have passed between sentencing for the prior felony and commission the present felony, excluding all periods of incarceration during such time period. Defendant argues that this provision violates the Equal Protection Clause because repeat offenders with lengthy sentences may receive harsher punishments than repeat offenders with lesser sentences or no periods of incarceration. While the tolling provision, as applied to persons with differing years of incarceration, may result in disparate punishment, there is no equal protection violation under our Constitution.

The Equal Protection Clause does not mandate absolute equality for treatment but merely prescribes that, absent a fundamental interest or suspect classification, a legislative classification be rationally related to a legitimate State purpose, People v Parker, 41 NY2d 21, 25, 1976. Thus, given the absence of a suspect class or a fundamental right at issue, the statutory provision need only be supported by some rational basis to survive constitutional scrutiny. People v. Walker, 81 NY2d 661, 668 1993.

The Court of Appeals concluded that it was not irrational for the Legislature in section 70.04 (1), to omit periods of incarceration from the 10-year look-back period in order to assess whether a prior violent felon has refrained from a repeat offense within a 10-year period. New York has a legitimate interest in upholding the State’s Penal Law. It is irrational to omit periods of incarceration from the look-back period because society has an interest in treating individuals who demonstrate  good behavior during the time in which they are released and living in society differently from those who cannot. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s order.