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People v. Minemier

New York Court of Appeals

June 22, 2017

The People & c., Respondent,
v.
Kevin M. Minemier, Appellant.

          Donald M. Thompson, for appellant.

          Leah R. Mervine, for respondent.

          STEIN, J.

         The sentencing court was not required to state, on the record, its reasons for denying defendant youthful offender status. However, by failing to adequately set forth on the record the basis for its refusal to disclose to the defense certain statements that were reviewed and considered by the court for sentencing purposes, the court violated CPL 390.50 and defendant's due process rights. Therefore, we reverse and remit to County Court.

         I.

         Following an incident in which defendant, then 18 years old, repeatedly stabbed a woman and also cut a bystander who intervened, defendant was indicted on charges of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree (two counts), and assault in the second degree. He pleaded guilty to the entire indictment in exchange for a promised sentencing cap of 20 years in prison, plus postrelease supervision, with defense counsel being permitted to argue for a lesser sentence. Counsel submitted a sentencing memorandum requesting, among other things, that defendant be treated as a youthful offender (YO). Counsel also requested disclosure of any statements that were written by the victims or their family members and submitted with the presentence investigation report (PSI).

         At sentencing, counsel objected that he had not received the victim impact letters that accompanied the PSI. County Court denied the request to turn over "the statements" to counsel. Oral victim impact statements were presented by the female victim, her parents, and the intervening bystander who was injured. The court commented on the horrific nature of the crime, mentioned the life-long effects on the victims and their families, and noted that it was "a tragedy all the way around." Without mentioning YO status, the court imposed an aggregate sentence of 20 years in prison and 5 years of postrelease supervision.

         On defendant's appeal, the Appellate Division reserved decision and remitted for the sentencing court to make an on-the-record determination, in accordance with People v Rudolph (21 N.Y.3d 497, 501 [2013]), as to whether defendant should be adjudicated a YO (124 A.D.3d 1408');">124 A.D.3d 1408 [4th Dept 2015]). Because the Appellate Division concluded that it was clear that the sentencing court had reviewed written statements that were not disclosed to defendant or made part of the record, it also directed the court to make a record of what statements it had reviewed and to provide its reasons for refusing to disclose those statements to the parties.

         On remittal, the sentencing court stated that, although no YO determination was made on the record at the time of the original sentencing, the parties had discussed - and the court had in fact made a determination regarding - YO status. The court then explicitly held that, based on all of the information submitted previously and additional information provided that day, it was denying defendant YO status. The court also stated that, at the time of sentencing, it had reviewed the last page of the PSI, which was entitled "Confidential to the Court." The court explained that, because such information had been provided to the Probation Department on a promise of confidentiality, the court excepted it from disclosure. The court did not, however, identify the nature, source or contents of this purportedly confidential document.

         When the case returned to the Appellate Division, defendant argued that the sentencing court had erred in failing to set forth, on the record, its reasons for denying him YO status. The Appellate Division rejected this contention, concluding that, while CPL 720.20 requires courts to determine on the record whether an eligible youth should receive YO status, it does not require the sentencing court to state reasons supporting its determination (134 A.D.3d 1551');">134 A.D.3d 1551 [4th Dept 2015]). To the extent that prior Fourth Department cases held otherwise, the Court advised that they should not be followed. The Appellate Division further held that the sentencing court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to grant defendant YO status. Finally, the Appellate Division concluded that the sentencing court sufficiently complied with its prior remittal order by identifying what statements it reviewed at sentencing. Although the allegedly confidential document was not before it, the Appellate Division held that the sentencing court had not erred by denying disclosure of "confidential information" (id. at 1552). A Judge of this Court granted defendant leave to appeal (27 N.Y.3d 1003');">27 N.Y.3d 1003 [2016]).

         II.

         Defendant first argues that sentencing courts are required to state on the record their reasons for denying YO treatment. In People v Rudolph, this Court considered whether a sentencing court is required to make a YO determination in every case in which the defendant is an eligible youth, regardless of the circumstances (see 21 N.Y.3d at 499). We held that the statutory language of CPL 720.20, providing that "'the court must determine whether or not the eligible youth is a youthful offender, '" reflects a legislative policy choice that courts must make a YO determination "in every case where the defendant is eligible, even where the defendant fails to request it, or agrees to forgo it as part of a plea bargain" (Rudolph, 21 N.Y.3d at 501, quoting CPL 720.20 [1]). We explained that, while eligible youths are not necessarily entitled to be sentenced as a YO, all eligible youths have the right "to have a court decide whether such treatment is justified" (Rudolph, 21 N.Y.3d at 501).

          Rudolph concerned a defendant who was unconditionally an eligible youth as defined under CPL 720.10. In a subsequent case, People v Middlebrooks (25 N.Y.3d 516, 522 [2015]), we were presented with the question of whether Rudolph applied to defendants who are presumptively ineligible under the statute, but who could be deemed eligible provided the sentencing court finds that specified factors exist (see CPL 720.10 [2] [a]). Referring to this latter category of youths, this Court held that "the [sentencing] court must make the threshold determination as to whether the defendant is an eligible youth by considering the factors set forth in CPL 720.10 (3)" (Middlebrooks, 25 N.Y.3d at 525). The instant case does not present a Middlebrooks situation because it is undisputed that defendant falls within the definition of an eligible youth (see id.).

         Referring to our decisions in Rudolph and Middlebrooks, [1] defendant contends that sentencing courts must not only make an on-the-record determination regarding YO status but, where such treatment is denied, must also state reasons for the denial, in order to permit intelligent appellate review. Based on the plain language of the statute, we conclude that the Legislature has left to the sentencing court the discretion of whether and how to state reasons on the record. Generally, in a discretionary sentencing context, a court has no obligation to explain its reasons for imposing a particular sentence that is within the statutory parameters (see Peter Preiser, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 11A, CPL 390.50, at 358; see also CPL 380.50 [3] [sentencing court "may" summarize factors it deems relevant and afford defendant or counsel an opportunity to comment; the statute does not require courts to do so, nor does it require them to explain how they applied those factors]). Nevertheless, based on a review of the record as a whole, appellate courts can - and regularly ...


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