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In re Application of Martin

Supreme Court, Cayuga County

October 18, 2017

In the Matter of the Application of Nicholas Martin, Petitioner,
Tina M. Stanford, Chairperson of The New York State Board of Parole, Respondent.

          HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ESQ. Attorney General of the State of New York

          By: RAY A. KYLES, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General of Counsel

          NICHOLAS MARTIN, Petitioner, Pro Se

          MARK H. FANDRICH, J.

         Petitioner, who is presently an inmate at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, is challenging the New York State Board of Parole's determination denying him parole release. Petitioner commenced this proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 requesting that the Court reverse and set aside Respondent's determination of September 27, 2016. Petitioner argues that in rendering its decision the Board failed to consider the significance of Petitioner's youth at the time of the commission of the crime for which he is being held.

         Petitioner was convicted, following a plea, of murder in the second degree and sentenced on August 10, 1999, to a term of imprisonment of eighteen years to life. Petitioner's arrest and subsequent conviction stemmed from an incident whereby Petitioner stabbed a man who was purchasing drugs from him. At the time of the offense, Petitioner was seventeen years old.

         Following a September 27, 2016, Parole Board appearance, the Board denied Petitioner parole. The Board decision reads as follows:

"Denied-hold for 24 months, next appearance date: 09/2018. After a review of the record, interview, and deliberation, the panel has determined that your release would be incompatible with the welfare and safety of society and would so deprecate the serious nature of the crime as to undermine respect for the law. Parole is denied. Required statutory factors have been considered, together with your institutional adjustment including discipline and program participation, your risk and needs assessment, and your needs for successful re-entry into the community. More compelling, however, are the following: your serious instant offense of murder 2nd degree which involved you causing the death of the victim by stabbing him multiple times with a knife. You stated during the interview that the cause of this was a dispute over drugs and that you were selling drugs at the time. The records reflect and you agreed that you had contacts with the legal system in Tennessee as a juvenile and, unfortunately, your move to NY did not change your negative behavior. As a result of you engaging in illegal activity of selling drugs you put yourself in a position that lead to the victim's death. The panel notes your positive programming to date. Also noted, and discussed, is your very poor disciplinary record which demonstrates both violent conduct and drugs and considered together with the instant offense is a concern to this panel. You need to work harder on staying ticket free and continue programs that will benefit you. Therefore, based on all required factors and file considered, discretionary release, at this time, is not appropriate."

         Petitioner filed and perfected an administrative appeal. The Appeals Unit affirmed the Board's decision on or about March 27, 2017.

         In determining whether the Board acted properly, the Court must look at the statutory standards governing discretionary release to parole supervision. Such standards are set forth in Executive Law §259-i(2)(c), which states, in pertinent part:

Discretionary release on parole shall not be granted merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties while confined but after considering if there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not in-compatible with the welfare of society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime as to undermine respect for law.

(see Matter of Robles v. Fischer, 117 A.D.3d 1558 (4th Dept 2014); Matter of Silmon v. Travis, 95 N.Y.2d at 476). In every case the Board must consider, in sum, the inmate's institutional record, performance, if any, as a participant in a temporary release program, release plans, any deportation order issued by the federal government, any written statements of the crime victim or his or her representative, the seriousness of the offense and the inmate's prior criminal record (Executive Law §259-i(2)(c)(A)). The Board must also incorporate risk and needs principles to aid in its parole determinations (see Executive Law §259-c(4)).

         For petitioners who were under the age of eighteen at the time of the commission of the crime, the Board must also consider "youth and its attendant characteristics in relationship to the commission of the crime at issue" (Matter of Hawkins v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 140 A.D.3d 34 (3d Dept 2016)). In determining that the petitioner was entitled to a new hearing when the Board failed to consider such factors, the Third Department in Hawkins relied upon several United States Supreme Court cases involving young defendants in criminal matters (see id at 36-41, citing Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 US___, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012); Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)). Applying the constitutional protections afforded under these cases, the court held that "a person serving a sentence for a crime committed as a juvenile... has a substantive constitutional right not to be punished with a life sentence if the crime reflects transient immaturity...." (Matter of Hawkins, 140 A.D.3d at 36). As a result, the Board must consider "the significance of a petitioner's youth and attendant circumstances at the time of the commission of the crime before making a parole determination" (id).

         Petitioner argues that in rendering its decision, the Board failed to consider his young age at the time he committed his crime. This case comes at a pivotal time in New York State, where "Raise the Age" legislation was recently enacted to change the way the criminal justice system handles cases involving sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offenders. [1] Although Petitioner's age may not have been considered when he was sentenced in 1999, he is entitled to have his age at the time of the offense considered now by the Parole Board, the entity responsible for determining whether he will spend life in prison or some lesser time (see Matter of Hawkins, 140 A.D.3d at 36). At least two other lower courts have granted de novo hearings in light of the holding in Hawkins (see eg Matter of Hoyer v. Stanford, Sup Ct, Seneca County, September 14, 2016, Bender, J., index No. 50348; Dukes v. Stanford, Sup Ct, Albany County, August 1, 2016, McFonough, J., index No. ...

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