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People v. Williams

February 23, 2010

THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
DARRELL WILLIAMS, APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
EFRAIN HERNANDEZ, APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
CRAIG LEWIS, APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF DANNY ECHEVARRIA, APPELLANT,
v.
PATRICIA D. MARKS, MONROE COUNTY COURT JUDGE, RESPONDENT.
THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
EDWIN RODRIGUEZ, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Graffeo, J.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports.

In 1998, as part of Jenna's Law, the Legislature adopted Penal Law § 70.45, which directs that postrelease supervision is a mandatory component of all determinate prison sentences. We subsequently held that a sentencing court's failure to pronounce postrelease supervision during sentencing proceedings results in an illegal sentence that cannot be administratively corrected by the Department of Correctional Services (see Matter of Garner v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs., 10 NY3d 358, 360 [2008]). The Legislature responded in 2008 by enacting Correction Law § 601-d to provide a mechanism for courts to consider resentencing defendants serving determinate sentences without court-ordered postrelease supervision terms. In these appeals, we consider whether there are statutory or constitutional impediments to imposing postrelease supervision at resentencing on defendants who have completed their terms of imprisonment and been released into the community.

I. The History of Postrelease Supervision

The intent of the Legislature in adopting Jenna's Law was to abolish parole and institute determinate terms of imprisonment for certain felony offenses (see L 1998, ch 1). A major component of this statutory scheme required that every determinate sentence must also provide for postrelease supervision (PRS) (see Penal Law § 70.45 [1]). The implementation of mandatory PRS spurred a series of cases in this Court, beginning with People v Catu (4 NY3d 242 [2005]), in which we held that where PRS is a "direct consequence" of a conviction, a defendant seeking to plead guilty must be informed that a period of PRS constitutes part of his sentence if the plea is to be valid under the knowing, voluntary and intelligent standard (see id. at 244-245). Thus, a defendant who was not advised about a term of PRS prior to pleading guilty may seek vacatur of the plea.

Shortly after Catu, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declared in Earley v Murray (451 F3d 71 [2006], cert denied sub nom. Burhlre v Early, 551 US 1159 [2007]) that a defendant is entitled to habeas corpus relief in federal court if correction officials administratively imposed PRS that was not ordered by a court. A few weeks later, our decision in People v Van Deusen (7 NY3d 744 [2006]) dealt with a defendant who requested the withdrawal of her plea prior to sentencing because she had not been told about PRS as part of her negotiated plea bargain. The sentencing court had attempted to correct this oversight by combining the five-year mandatory term of PRS with a reduced prison sentence so that the total prison term would be less than the maximum 15-year sentence that the defendant had been promised. We rejected this corrective action, determining that a Catu error could not be rectified in this manner because, when the defendant pleaded guilty, "she did not possess all the information necessary for an informed choice among different possible courses of action" and, therefore, her plea was involuntary (id. at 746).

Then, in People v Louree (8 NY3d 541 [2007]), we recognized that a Catu error may be raised on direct appeal even if a defendant did not preserve the issue by moving to withdraw a plea prior to sentencing (as Van Deusen had done) or seeking vacatur of the conviction after sentencing (see id. at 545-546). And in People v Hill (9 NY3d 189 [2007], cert denied __ US __, 128 S Ct 2430 [2008]), we reiterated that a Catu error requires vacatur of a defective guilty plea since the error affects the defendant's due process rights (see id. at 193).

In April 2008, we issued the decisions in Matter of Garner v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs. (10 NY3d 358) and People v Sparber (10 NY3d 457). These cases dealt with the legality of the administrative imposition of PRS by the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) in situations where the sentencing courts had not pronounced PRS as part of the sentences. In Garner, we ruled that DOCS did not have the authority to add PRS to an inmate's sentence because "CPL 380.20 and 380.40 collectively provide that only a judge may impose a PRS sentence" (10 NY3d at 360). And in Sparber, we held that imprisoned defendants who raised the pronouncement issue on direct appeal, but did not seek vacatur of their pleas, were not entitled to have PRS expunged from their sentences as this would result in non-PRS sentences that contravened the statutory mandate for determinate sentences (see Penal Law § 70.45 [1]). Consequently, we concluded that the appropriate remedy for defendants like Sparber was a resentencing proceeding that could provide for the proper inclusion of PRS (see 10 NY3d at 471-472).

In the aftermath of these cases, the Legislature sought to deal with the significant number of incarcerated individuals whose status had been affected by the Catu and Garner/Sparber decisions. Section 70.85 was enacted (L 2008, ch 141, § 2) to address "cases in which a determinate sentence was imposed . . . and was required by law to include a term of postrelease supervision, but the court did not explicitly state such a term when pronouncing sentence." The statute allows a resentencing court to reimpose the originally pronounced determinate prison sentence without PRS if the District Attorney so consents. The purpose of this statute was to "avoid the need for pleas to be vacated when the District Attorney consents to re-sentencing without a term of PRS" (Governor's Approval Mem, Bill Jacket, L 2008, ch 141, at 13-14, reprinted in 2008 McKinney's Session Laws of NY, at 1653). In addition, section 601-d of the Correction Law was added to permit DOCS to notify sentencing courts that PRS had not been properly imposed in certain cases (these defendants are referred to as "designated persons") and to have these defendants returned to the original sentencing courts for modification of their sentences to include PRS.

Most recently, in May 2009, we decided another case where the defendant pleaded guilty but was not adequately informed about PRS. In People v Boyd (12 NY3d 390), the People mentioned PRS at the plea proceeding but the court stated that it did not have to order it because PRS was a mandatory part of the sentence. The court then asked the defendant if he understood that PRS was mandatory and the defendant responded in the affirmative. However, the defendant was not advised of the specific duration of his PRS term at the time of his plea, nor did the court formally impose a term of PRS as part of the sentence. We determined that these deficiencies rendered the plea involuntary and that defendant did not need to preserve this issue by a post-allocution motion to withdraw his plea (see id. at 393). Although the People requested that the defendant be resentenced without PRS under the procedure adopted in Penal Law § 70.85 in order to avoid vacatur of the guilty plea, we declined to approve this remedy in Boyd, finding it premature. We explained:

"This corrective action should not be entertained at this time because the constitutionality of this new provision and its applicability to this case have not been sufficiently developed for our review. . . . the issue of whether the deficiency in the plea allocution can be rectified by granting defendant specific performance of the plea agreement --- a determinate sentence without imposing a term of PRS --- should be determined by Supreme Court in the first instance. We therefore remit this case to Supreme Court to give the People the opportunity to litigate their argument regarding the applicability of Penal Law § 70.85 and for defendant to assert any constitutional challenges to the operation of the statute" (id. at 394).

Unlike the defendant in Boyd who requested vacatur of his plea, we now have before us five defendants who are not challenging the validity of their convictions but instead raise a variety of statutory and constitutional issues regarding resentencing under Correction Law § 601-d. In each of these cases, defendants received determinate sentences that did not include a term of PRS. Following our decisions in Garner and Sparber, DOCS initiated resentencing proceedings under Correction Law § 601-d so that PRS could be formally pronounced in each case. The defendants here do not seek reversal of their convictions because they have completed their originally-imposed prison sentences and have been released from custody by DOCS. Before addressing their contentions, we review the pertinent facts of each case.

II. The Defendants

People v Darrell Williams

In 2004, defendant Darrell Williams agreed to enter a guilty plea to assault in the second degree in exchange for a promised prison sentence of three years, to be followed by three years of PRS. The plea was accepted by Supreme Court but the court did not formally pronounce the term of PRS during the sentencing proceeding. DOCS nevertheless conditionally released Williams to PRS in September 2006.

In May 2007, Williams was reincarcerated for violating PRS. Following our decision in Garner, DOCS notified the sentencing court of its failure to properly impose PRS. Williams claimed that resentencing exceeded the court's jurisdiction and would violate his Double Jeopardy and Due Process protections.

Supreme Court concluded that it had the inherent authority to correct the original sentence because it was illegal in the absence of a period of PRS. The court did, however, order that Williams be immediately released from custody on the rationale that he could not have violated PRS before it was a proper component of his sentence. The Appellate Division affirmed (59 AD3d 172 [1st Dept 2009]) and a Judge of this Court granted Williams leave to appeal (12 NY3d 823 [2009]).

People v Efrain Hernandez

Defendant Efrain Hernandez pleaded guilty to burglary in the second degree and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. PRS was not discussed during the plea proceeding or at sentencing. DOCS administratively imposed five years of PRS and Hernandez was conditionally released from prison in December 2005.

Hernandez violated PRS and was sent back to prison. After the enactment of Correction Law § 601-d, DOCS notified the sentencing court that Hernandez was a designated person for the purpose of resentencing. Hernandez opposed resentencing on statutory and constitutional grounds.

Supreme Court determined that there were no legal impediments to the resentencing procedure under Correction Law § 601-d because the original sentence was illegal without a term of PRS and Hernandez could not have had a reasonable expectation of finality in that sentence once DOCS informed him that PRS was required. At resentencing, in lieu of PRS, the court offered Hernandez the option to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial, but he declined this offer and was resentenced to the original prison term plus five years of PRS.

The Appellate Division affirmed (59 AD3d 180 [1st Dept 2009]), holding that a sentencing court has the inherent power to correct an illegal sentence even if the correction occurs more than one year after conviction. The court also determined that a defendant cannot have a legitimate expectation of finality in an illegal sentence and that the imposition of PRS was not fundamentally unfair. A Judge of this Court granted Hernandez leave to appeal (12 NY3d 817 [2009]).

People v Craig Lewis

Defendant Craig Lewis was indicted for burglary, assault and criminal contempt after he assaulted his ex-girlfriend and subsequently entered her home without permission in violation of an order of protection. Unlike the other defendants in these appeals, Lewis declined to plead guilty and exercised his right to a jury trial. Although the jury acquitted Lewis of assault, he was convicted of burglary and two counts of criminal contempt. The sentencing court ordered an aggregate prison sentence of five years but did not impose PRS.

DOCS administratively added PRS and, after Lewis was released from confinement, the sentencing court was notified that Lewis was a designated person qualifying for resentencing pursuant to Correction Law § 601-d. Lewis interposed various objections to resentencing, which were rejected by the court that resentenced defendant to five years of PRS. The Appellate Division affirmed (60 AD3d 425 [1st Dept 2009]), and a Judge of this Court granted Lewis leave to appeal (12 NY3d 818 [2009]).

Matter of Echevarria v Marks

Petitioner Danny Echevarria pleaded guilty to first-degree rape and other offenses in return for an aggregate prison sentence of five years. PRS was not discussed during the plea proceeding and it was not made part of the sentence, although defense counsel referenced PRS during the sentencing proceeding. Before Echevarria was released from prison, he signed a DOCS certificate acknowledging a term of PRS. Thereafter, he violated the terms of PRS on several occasions and was returned to prison. Since People v Sparber (10 NY3d 457 [2008]) was decided while Echevarria was in custody for a PRS violation, DOCS notified the sentencing court that Echevarria should be resentenced.

Petitioner commenced a CPLR article 78 proceeding against the sentencing judge (respondent Marks), seeking relief in the nature of prohibition to preclude resentencing on jurisdictional and constitutional grounds. In dismissing the petition, the Appellate Division reasoned that, even if resentencing was beyond the court's jurisdiction, Echevarria could not pursue discretionary prohibition relief because he had an adequate remedy at law -- a ...


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