Portalatin v. Graham
Appeal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Case No. 07-1599

Tags No tags have been applied so far. Sign in to add some.
Request Update Request UpdateSpaceE-Mail Alert Get E-Mail Alerts

  Text Tab Overlap Citations (250) Tab Overlap Cited By (6) Right End
07-1599-pr, 06-3550-pr, 07-3588-pr

Portalatin v. Graham 1 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS 2 3 FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT 4 5 6 7 August Term, 2009 8 9 (En Banc Rehearing: July 9, 2010 Decided: October 18, 2010) 10 11 Docket Nos. 07-1599-pr, 06-3550-pr, 07-3588-pr 12 (consolidated for disposition) 13 14 15 CARLOS PORTALATIN, 16 17 Petitioner-Appellee, 18 19 ""v."" No. 07-1599-pr 20 21 HAROLD GRAHAM, Superintendent, Auburn Correctional Facility, 22 23 Respondent-Appellant. 24 25 26 27 WILLIAM PHILLIPS, 28 29 Petitioner-Appellant, 30 31 ""v."" No. 06-3550-pr 32 33 DALE ARTUS, Superintendent, Clinton Correctional Facility, 34 ANDREW M. CUOMO, New York State Attorney General, 35 36 Respondents-Appellees. 37 38 39 40 41
Page 1 of 62
1 VANCE MORRIS, 2 3 Petitioner-Appellant, 4 5 ""v."" No. 07-3588-pr 6 7 DALE ARTUS, Superintendent, Clinton Correctional Facility, 8 ANDREW M. CUOMO, New York State Attorney General, 9 10 Respondents-Appellees.* 11 12 13 14 15 Before: 16 JACOBS, Chief Judge, WINTER,** CABRANES, POOLER, SACK,*** 17 KATZMANN, RAGGI, WESLEY, HALL, LIVINGSTON, 18 LYNCH, CHIN, Circuit Judges. 19 20 WESLEY, J., filed the majority opinion in which JACOBS, 21 C.J., CABRANES, KATZMANN, RAGGI, HALL, LIVINGSTON, LYNCH, and CHIN, 22 JJ., joined. 23 24 WINTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which POOLER 25 and SACK, JJ., joined. 26 27 Habeas petitioners challenge the constitutionality of 28 sentences imposed pursuant to New York's persistent felony 29 offender statute. See N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10. A previously 30 constituted panel of this Court held that the state courts 31 unreasonably applied the Supreme Court's construction of the 32 Sixth Amendment in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 33 (2004), in affirming the petitioners' sentences, but 34 remanded to the district court for harmless error analysis.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to amend the official caption in

this action to conform with that of this opinion.
Senior Circuit Judge Winter was a member of the initial three-judge

panel that heard this appeal, and is therefore eligible to participate in en

banc rehearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 46(c)(1).
Senior Circuit Judge Sack was a member of the initial three-judge

panel that heard this appeal, and is therefore eligible to participate in en

banc rehearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 46(c)(1).
Page 2 of 62
1 Besser v. Walsh, 601 F.3d 163 (2d Cir. 2010). Following 2 this rehearing en banc, and for the reasons discussed 3 herein, the Court rejects that conclusion. Petitions 4 denied. 5 6 The grant of Portalatin's petition is REVERSED, and the 7 denials of Phillips's and Morris's petitions are AFFIRMED. 8 9 10 11 12 LEONARD JOBLOVE, Ann Bordley, Assistant District 13 Attorneys, of counsel, Kings County, Brooklyn, 14 NY, for Respondent-Appellant Harold Graham 15 16 ANDREW C. FINE, The Legal Aid Society, Criminal 17 Appeals Bureau, New York, NY, for Petitioner- 18 Appellant Vance Morris 19 20 MARTIN M. LUCENTE (Andrew C. Fine, on the brief), The 21 Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Bureau, 22 New York, NY, for Petitioner-Appellant William 23 Phillips 24 25 BARBARA D. UNDERWOOD (Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney 26 General of the State of New York, Roseann B. 27 MacKechnie, Deputy Solicitor General for 28 Criminal Matters, Alyson J. Gill, Assistant 29 Attorney General, of Counsel, on the brief), 30 Solicitor General, for Respondent-Appellees 31 Andrew M. Cuomo and Dale Artus 32 33 JOSHUA MICHAEL LEVINE (Lynn W.L. Fahey, on the brief), 34 Appellate Advocates, New York, NY, for 35 Petitioner-Appellee Carlos Portalatin 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44
Page 3 of 62
1 WESLEY, Circuit Judge: 2 Petitioners Carlos Portalatin, William Phillips, and 3 Vance Morris were separately convicted in state court and 4 received sentences pursuant to New York's persistent felony 5 offender statute, N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10. Each petitioned 6 for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that the New York 7 courts engaged in an unreasonable application of clearly 8 established federal law in affirming their sentences. 9 Specifically, they argue that the Sixth Amendment guarantee 10 of the right to an impartial jury, as construed by the 11 Supreme Court in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) 12 and its progeny, proscribes the long-used sentencing 13 procedure in New York that results in judicially enhanced 14 sentences for certain recidivist offenders. 15 In the case of petitioner Portalatin, the United States 16 District Court for the Eastern District of New York agreed, 17 issuing a writ of habeas corpus from which the State now 18 appeals. See Portalatin v. Graham, 478 F. Supp. 2d 385, 386 19 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (Gleeson, J.). In the cases of petitioners 20 Phillips and Morris, the United States District Court for 21 the Southern District of New York separately declined to 22 issue such writs. See Phillips v. Artus, No. 05 Civ. 7974,
Page 4 of 62
1 2006 WL 1867386, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 30, 2006) (Crotty, 2 J.); Morris v. Artus, No. 06 Civ. 4095, 2007 WL 2200699, at 3 *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2007) (Sweet, J.). Petitioners 4 appealed. 5 In a consolidated appeal, a panel of this Court 6 concluded that New York's persistent felony offender 7 sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment, and that the 8 New York courts unreasonably applied clearly established 9 Supreme Court precedent in holding otherwise, but remanded 10 the matters to the district court for consideration of 11 whether those errors were harmless. See Besser v. Walsh, 12 601 F.3d 163, 189 (2d Cir. 2010). 13 A majority of judges in active service then called for 14 this rehearing en banc. The Court now holds that the state 15 courts did not engage in an unreasonable application of 16 clearly established Supreme Court precedent in affirming the 17 convictions. Accordingly, the grant of the writ to 18 Portalatin is reversed, and the denials of the writ to 19 Phillips and Morris are affirmed. 20 21 22
Page 5 of 62
1 Background 2 A. New York's Recidivist Sentencing Scheme 3 At issue in this case is the constitutionality of New 4 York's persistent felony offender ("PFO") sentencing 5 statute, which authorizes lengthy terms of imprisonment for 6 certain recidivist offenders in New York. 7 New York was the first state in the Union to enact a 8 recidivist sentencing law; that is, one that punishes repeat 9 offenders more harshly than first-time offenders. See 10 generally Susan Buckley, Note, Don't Steal a Turkey in 11 Arkansas "" the Second Felony Offender in New York, 45 12 Fordham L. Rev. 76 (1976). New York provided for the 13 enhancement of sentences for second-time offenders beginning 14 in 1796. Act of March 26, 1796, ch. 30, 1789-1796 N.Y. Laws 15 669 (1887 ed.). It subsequently added a mandatory life 16 sentence for fourth-time offenders, Act of July 19, 1907, 17 ch. 645, 1907 N.Y. Laws 1494-95, which was later reduced to 18 an indeterminate term of between fifteen years and life, 19 Act of April 4, 1932, ch. 617, 1932 N.Y. Laws 1312. 20 Ultimately, in revising the Penal Law in 1965, New York 21 began to move away from that rigid mandatory framework "" 22 with respect to non-violent offenders "" to permit judges
Page 6 of 62
1 more flexibility in selecting a sentence that is not unduly 2 harsh in any given case: 3 The primary objection to the existing New York 4 provisions is the mandatory feature which 5 requires the court to blind itself to all 6 relevant sentencing criteria, such as the 7 circumstances surrounding the crime for which 8 sentence is to be imposed, the nature and 9 circumstances of the previous crimes, and the 10 history, character and condition of the 11 offender. 12 13 Comm. Staff Notes, reprinted in proposed New York Penal Law 14 (Study Bill, 1964 Senate Int. 3918, Assembly Int. 5376), § 15 30.10 [now § 70.10], at 284. 16 Accordingly, Article 70 of New York's penal law now 17 sets forth two categories of recidivists, or "persistent 18 offenders." A persistent violent felony offender is defined 19 as a person who stands convicted of a violent felony (as 20 defined in N.Y. Penal Law § 70.02) and has previously been 21 convicted of two or more violent felonies (as defined in 22 N.Y. Penal Law § 70.04(1)(b)). Such an individual is 23 subject to an enhanced sentencing range, with a maximum term 24 of life in prison, and a minimum term fixed, based on the 25 category of the offense, anywhere from twelve to twenty-five 26 years. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.08(2), (3). A judge does not 27 have discretion to depart from that enhanced range: "[w]hen
Page 7 of 62
1 the court has found . . . that a person is a persistent 2 felony offender the court must impose an indeterminate 3 sentence of imprisonment [as provided herein]." Id. § 4 70.08(2) (emphasis added). 5 By contrast, subject to certain exceptions, a 6 persistent felony offender is defined as a "person, other 7 than a persistent violent felony offender . . . who stands 8 convicted of a felony after having previously been convicted 9 of two or more felonies." Id. § 70.10(1)(a).1 Once a 10 defendant is determined to be a PFO, he may receive an 11 indeterminate sentence corresponding to that of a class A-I 12 felony, which ranges from a minimum of fifteen to twenty- 13 five years, and a maximum of life in prison. Id. §§ 14 70.10(2); 70.00(3)(a)(i). However, unlike New York's 15 persistent violent felony offender statute, the PFO statute 16 does not require the judge to impose a sentence within that 17 elevated range. Instead, the decision whether to impose a 18 class A-I sentence is within the judge's discretion. Id. § 19 70.10(2). 20 The PFO statute is therefore commonly referred to as 21 the "discretionary" persistent felony offender statute. It

The full text of the PFO statute is set forth in Appendix A, infra.
Page 8 of 62
1 permits, but does not require, a class A-I sentence for 2 certain recidivist felons. The procedure by which a judge 3 determines whether to impose a PFO sentence in a particular 4 case is set forth in New York Criminal Procedure Law § 5 400.20. Pursuant to that provision, the prosecution must 6 first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is 7 a PFO "" that is, that he has previously been convicted of 8 two or more qualifying felonies "" before an enhanced 9 sentence is authorized. See N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 10 400.20(1), (5). But the court is also directed to engage in 11 a second inquiry, and to assess whether a PFO sentence is 12 warranted before imposing such a sentence, taking into 13 consideration the "history and character" of the defendant 14 and the "nature and circumstances of his criminal conduct." 15 Id. 16 If, in the court's view, the undisputed allegations 17 regarding the defendant's background and the nature of his 18 criminal conduct justify the imposition of the enhanced 19 sentence, and the court is satisfied that the defendant 20 either has no relevant evidence to the contrary or such 21 evidence would not affect the court's decision, then the 22 court may impose a class A-I sentence (without a further
Page 9 of 62
1 hearing) pursuant to § 70.10(2). See id. § 400.20(8). 2 Otherwise, the court may schedule a hearing at which the 3 prosecution and defendant are given an opportunity to 4 present evidence as to whether the A-I sentence is 5 warranted. Id. § 400.20(9). And, at the conclusion of that 6 hearing, 7 [i]f the court both finds that the defendant is a 8 persistent felony offender and is of the opinion 9 that a persistent felony offender sentence is 10 warranted, it may sentence the defendant in 11 accordance with the provisions of [Section 12 70.10(2)]. 13 14 Id. Throughout the proceeding the prosecution bears the 15 burden of proof. Id. § 400.20(5). If the sentencing court 16 imposes a class A-I sentence, "the reasons for the court's 17 opinion shall be set forth in the record." N.Y. Penal Law § 18 70.10(2). 19 To illustrate: A defendant who stands convicted as a 20 first-time offender of a class D felony is subject to an 21 indeterminate sentence, with a minimum term of no less than 22 one year and no more than two and one third years, and a 23 maximum term of between three years and seven years. See 24 id. § 70.00(2)(d), (3)(b). Following the defendant's second 25 conviction of a class D felony, he faces an indeterminate
Page 10 of 62
1 sentence with a minimum term of between two years and three 2 and one half years, and a maximum term of between four years 3 and seven years. See id. § 70.06(3)(d), (4)(b). A 4 subsequent conviction of a class D felony triggers the PFO 5 statute. Once the prosecution proves the fact of 6 defendant's two prior convictions beyond a reasonable doubt, 7 the defendant is subject to a class A-I sentence, in the 8 discretion of the court and pursuant to the procedure 9 described above, with a minimum term of between fifteen and 10 twenty-five years, and a maximum term of life in prison. 11 See id. §§ 70.00(2)(a), (3)(a)(i), 70.10(2).2 12 13 B. Facts and Procedural History 14 1. Carlos Portalatin 15 On July 12, 2002, Portalatin accosted a man at gunpoint 16 and forced him to drive to an empty street in Brooklyn. 17 Following a struggle, the victim managed to escape, and [End Page 2]
The New York State Department of Correctional Services currently has

custody of approximately 2,450 persistent felons who received sentences

pursuant to either Section 70.08 or 70.10, which accounts for 4.2% of the

total inmate population. State of New York Department of Correctional

Services, Under Custody Report: Profile of Inmate Population Under Custody on

January 1, 2010, available at http://www.docs.state.ny.us/research/reports/

2010/undercustody_report.pdf; see also Joel Stashenko, Penalties for

"˜Persistent' Felons Violate the Constitution, Circuit Says, N.Y.L.J., Apr. 1,

2010, p.6, col. 1. The Department does not distinguish between persistent

felony offenders, and persistent violent felony offenders, for statistical

Page 11 of 62
1 Portalatin drove away in the car. He was convicted of 2 robbery in the first degree and kidnaping in the second 3 degree, both class B violent felonies. See N.Y. Penal Law § 4 70.02(1). 5 The prosecution asked the court to sentence Portalatin 6 as a persistent felony offender. A sentencing hearing was 7 held on April 28, 2003, at which the prosecution proved that 8 Portalatin had been previously convicted of the following: 9 (1) attempted burglary in the second degree in 1995; and (2) 10 attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the 11 fifth degree in 1998. Portalatin did not contest the 12 existence of those convictions. The court concluded that 13 Portalatin "appear[ed] to be eligible for discretionary 14 persistent felony offender adjudication" based on those 15 predicate offenses. 16 Next, at step two, the court conducted an assessment to 17 determine whether a class A-I sentence was warranted. The 18 court considered the circumstances of the crimes for which 19 he was convicted, and also examined the history and 20 character of the defendant: 21 [L]ooking back on the history of this defendant, 22 and having read these reports . . . [H]e began 23 his criminal career in 1989, and we have 24 beginning from that point on, the failure to take
Page 12 of 62
1 advantage of opportunities that might have 2 provided drug treatment, that might have in some 3 way assisted him. We have bench warrants 4 repeatedly. We have parole revocations, and 5 repeated parole revocations to the extent that 6 it's only when these sentences maxed out that he 7 finally is released, and no sooner is he released 8 than there is a new crime. 9 . . . . 10 He certainly has earned a persistent adjudication 11 as I look at this Rap sheet and the circumstances 12 of this offense and other offenses, and I'm going 13 to adjudicate him a persistent felony offender. 14 15 The court imposed two indeterminate sentences of eighteen 16 years to life imprisonment, to run concurrently. Had the 17 court elected not to sentence Portalatin as a PFO, he would 18 have faced a determinate sentence of between ten and twenty- 19 five years on each count. See N.Y. Penal Law § 70.04(3)(a). 20 Portalatin appealed his conviction, contending that his 21 sentence was imposed in violation of the Sixth Amendment, as 22 construed by the Supreme Court in Apprendi. On May 16, 23 2005, the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment, People 24 v. Portalatin, 18 A.D.3d 673, 674, 795 N.Y.S.2d 334, 335 (2d 25 Dep't 2005), and the New York Court of Appeals subsequently 26 denied him leave to appeal, People v. Portalatin, 5 N.Y.3d 27 793, 793 (2005). Portalatin then sought a writ of habeas 28 corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern
Page 13 of 62
1 District of New York, which was granted. Portalatin, 478 F. 2 Supp. 2d at 407. The State took this appeal. 3 4 2. William Phillips 5 On March 13, 1999, Phillips and another man robbed a 6 magazine store in midtown Manhattan. The evidence at trial 7 established that Phillips entered the store with his 8 accomplice, pulled a knife, and demanded money from the 9 store manager. He was convicted following a jury trial of 10 one count of second-degree robbery (at the time a class C 11 violent felony). 12 Following his conviction, the prosecution moved to have 13 Phillips sentenced as a persistent felony offender pursuant 14 to § 70.10. Phillips's predicate felony offenses included: 15 (1) in 1986, he was convicted of second-degree attempted 16 robbery relating to an incident in which he and an 17 accomplice "grabbed a man on a Bronx Street and forcibly 18 stole his property"; (2) in 1987, he was convicted of third- 19 degree burglary while awaiting sentencing on the 1986 Bronx 20 conviction; (3) also in 1987, he was convicted of fourth- 21 degree grand larceny arising from his theft of a wallet from 22 an undercover police officer; (4) once again in 1987, he was
Page 14 of 62
1 convicted of third-degree burglary arising from his theft of 2 merchandise from a card store; (5) in 1990, following the 3 completion of his sentences for the above charges, he was 4 convicted of third-degree attempted robbery; and (6) in 5 1994, he was convicted of attempted criminal sale of a 6 controlled substance in the third degree. Phillips also had 7 multiple misdemeanor offenses. 8 A sentencing hearing was held on January 4, 2000, at 9 which the court heard arguments on the prosecution's § 70.10 10 motion. Phillips did not dispute the existence of his six 11 prior felony convictions. Instead, he challenged the facts 12 found by the jury in his case, maintained his innocence of 13 the March 13, 1999, robbery, and attempted to persuade the 14 court to exercise its discretion not to sentence him as a 15 PFO. 16 On January 13, 2000, the court issued its ruling. 17 First, the court made the threshold determination that 18 "defendant has been convicted of two or more previous 19 felonies and is a persistent felony offender within the 20 meaning of [§ 70.10]." The court then conducted a 21 generalized assessment, and concluded that a class A-I 22 sentence was warranted:
Page 15 of 62
1 Defendant has demonstrated time and again, 2 throughout his entire adult life, that he cannot 3 be trusted to function normally in society and 4 that he is unwilling and unable to rehabilitate 5 himself. The history and character of defendant 6 and the nature and circumstances of his criminal 7 conduct are such that extended incarceration and 8 lifetime supervision are warranted to best serve 9 the public interest. 10 (citing N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1); N.Y. Penal Law § 11 70.10). Phillips received an indeterminate sentence of 12 sixteen years to life in prison. Had he not been sentenced 13 as a PFO, he would have faced a determinate sentence of 14 between seven and fifteen years. See N.Y. Penal Law §§ 15 70.02(1); 70.04(1), (3)(b). 16 Following his sentence, Phillips exhausted his appeals 17 in state court, see People v. Phillips, 2 A.D.3d 278, 279, 18 768 N.Y.S.2d 812, 812 (1st Dep't 2003) (rejecting 19 defendant's Apprendi challenge); People v. Phillips, 3 20 N.Y.3d 645, 645 (June 24, 2004), on reconsideration, 3 21 N.Y.3d 710, 710 (Sep. 30, 2004) (denying leave to appeal), 22 and then brought the instant petition for a writ of habeas 23 corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern 24 District of New York on the grounds that his sentence was 25 imposed in violation of the principle announced in Apprendi 26 v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). On June 30, 2006, the
Page 16 of 62
1 district court rejected his Apprendi challenge and declined 2 to issue a certificate of appealability. Phillips, 2006 WL 3 1867386, at *5-7. Phillips then moved for a certificate of 4 appealability in this Court, which was granted. 5 6 3. Vance Morris 7 Morris was convicted following a jury trial of sixteen 8 counts of criminal contempt in the first degree, a class E 9 felony. See N.Y. Penal Law § 215.51(b). Four final orders 10 of protection had previously been issued against Morris when 11 the police were called to his ex-girlfriend's apartment on 12 July 18, 2001. The woman informed the officers that Morris 13 had come to her residence in violation of the orders of 14 protection, repeatedly banged on her door, and threatened 15 her. While the officers were still present, Morris twice 16 called the apartment and left messages, each time 17 threatening to kill the woman. 18 Following Morris's conviction, the State moved to 19 sentence him as a persistent felony offender. At sentencing 20 hearings held in April and July of 2002, Morris conceded 21 various prior felony convictions, including: (1) a 1989 22 conviction for attempted robbery in the third degree; (2) a
Page 17 of 62
1 1992 conviction for grand larceny in the fourth degree; (3) 2 a 1992 conviction for attempted criminal possession of a 3 controlled substance in the fifth degree; and (4) a 1994 4 conviction for robbery in the third degree. The court 5 therefore concluded that Morris qualified as a persistent 6 felony offender under Section 70.10. 7 Next, at step two, the court evaluated whether or not 8 Morris should be sentenced as a PFO. The sentencing judge 9 described the defendant's long history of "terrorizing" his 10 ex-girlfriend, as well as several of her neighbors, who on 11 several occasions felt it necessary to call the police for 12 fear that "he's going to kill us all." In addition, while 13 Morris was incarcerated at Riker's Island during the 14 pendency of the case, he called his ex-girlfriend on thirty- 15 two separate occasions in violation of the orders of 16 protection. The court considered the defendant's other 17 criminal history of violence toward women, which include 18 numerous incidents in the subway, inter alia: 19 firing a projectile in the face of a female 20 passenger in 1986, twice snatching pairs of 21 earrings from the ears of female passengers, 22 slapping a [visibly] pregnant female in the face 23 and snatching necklaces from her neck, twice 24 engaging in public masturbation in the subway 25 station in front of female witnesses and grabbing 26 the buttocks of a female rider while threatening
Page 18 of 62
1 a sexual assault on her. 2 3 The court concluded that Morris's "criminal record, 4 which spans nearly two decades, establishes his propensity 5 to prey upon helpless women generally, and upon [the ex- 6 girlfriend] in particular. It also serves to demonstrate 7 his utter lack of self control and inability to be 8 rehabilitated." Morris was sentenced to sixteen 9 indeterminate terms of fifteen years to life in prison, to 10 be served concurrently. If Morris had not been sentenced as 11 a PFO, he would have faced a determinate sentence of between 12 one and one half years and four years on each of the sixteen 13 counts. See N.Y. Penal Law § 70.06(3)-(4). 14 On direct appeal, Morris asserted an Apprendi challenge 15 to his sentence. The Appellate Division rejected that 16 argument as unpreserved, as well as on its merits. See 17 People v. Morris, 21 A.D.3d 251, 251, 800 N.Y.S.2d 6, 7 (1st 18 Dep't 2005). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to 19 appeal on September 27, 2005, People v. Morris, 5 N.Y.3d 20 831, 831 (2005), and Morris submitted a petition for a writ 21 of habeas corpus in federal court. On July 30, 2007, the 22 United States District Court for the Southern District of 23 New York denied that petition. Morris, 2007 WL 2200699, at
Page 19 of 62
1 *1. Morris brought this appeal. 2 3 4. The Consolidated Appeal and Panel Opinion 4 Because the legal question presented by the three 5 petitioners is identical "" specifically, whether New York's 6 recidivist sentencing scheme runs afoul of the Supreme 7 Court's holding in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 8 (2004) "" their appeals were consolidated by our Court.3 9 The case was argued in front of a three-judge panel on April 10 16, 2008, and on March 31, 2010, the panel answered that 11 question in the negative. Besser v. Walsh, 601 F.3d 163, 12 169 (2d Cir. 2010). According to the panel, the Sixth 13 Amendment principle announced in Blakely "prohibits the type 14 of judicial fact-finding resulting in enhanced sentences 15 under New York's PFO statute." Id. We ordered this [End Page 3]
This consolidated appeal originally included five petitioners, two of

whom have been severed from this en banc rehearing (Besser v. Walsh, No. 05-

4375-pr, and Washington v. Poole, No. 07-3949-pr). Besser's conviction became

final in state court well before the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely. His

appeal therefore does not present a unique legal question of "exceptional

importance" for the Court, Fed. R. App. P. 35(a)(2), and is effectively

disposed of by our existing precedent, see Brown v. Miller ("Brown II"), 451 F.3d 54, 55 (2d Cir. 2006); Brown v. Greiner ("Brown I"), 409 F.3d 523, 534-35

(2d Cir. 2005). As a result, our decision in Besser v. Walsh, 601 F.3d 163,

169 (2d Cir. 2010), insomuch as it affirmed the judgment of the district court

denying Besser's petition, remains final with respect to his appeal. In

addition, because Washington predeceased the resolution of his appeal, we

vacated the district court's judgment and remanded that case with instructions

to dismiss his petition as moot. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 39-40 (1950); Mfrs. Hanover Trust Co. v. Yanakas, 11 F.3d 381, 383

(2d Cir. 1993).
Page 20 of 62
1 rehearing en banc and, for the reasons stated below, we 2 conclude that the state courts did not engage in an 3 unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme 4 Court precedent to conclude otherwise. Each of the 5 petitions is therefore denied. 6 7 Discussion 8 A. Standard of Review 9 We review de novo a district court's decision to grant 10 or deny a habeas corpus petition. See, e.g., Overton v. 11 Newton, 295 F.3d 270, 275 (2d Cir. 2002). Since the 12 enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty 13 Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, 14 federal habeas review of state court convictions has been 15 narrowly circumscribed, see Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 16 654 (1996) (acknowledging that AEDPA "work[ed] substantial 17 changes" to the ability of a federal tribunal to entertain a 18 habeas petition). Where, as here, the challenged state 19 court decision was adjudicated on the merits,4 the writ may [End Page 4]
Although the claims asserted by Portalatin and Morris were not

preserved on direct appeal, thus independently barred as a matter of state

procedural law, the Appellate Division in each case cited to the New York

Court of Appeals decision in People v. Rosen, 96 N.Y.2d 329 (2001), to support

its conclusion that those claims were defaulted. See Morris, 21 A.D.3d at

251, 800 N.Y.S.2d at 7; Portalatin, 18 A.D.3d at 674, 795 N.Y.S.2d at 335. As

our Court has previously observed, the procedural analysis in Rosen was
Page 21 of 62
1 not issue unless the state court proceeding: 2 (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, 3 or involved an unreasonable application of, 4 clearly established Federal law, as determined by 5 the Supreme Court of the United States; or 6 7 (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an 8 unreasonable determination of the facts in light 9 of the evidence presented in the State court 10 proceeding. 11 12 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). 13 To qualify as "clearly established" for the purposes of 14 federal habeas review, a rule of law must be embodied in the 15 "holdings, as opposed to the dicta," of Supreme Court 16 precedent. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). 17 And, for a state court decision to be "contrary to," or an 18 "unreasonable application of," that Supreme Court precedent, 19 the decision must: (1) "arrive[] at a conclusion opposite to 20 that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law"; 21 (2) "decide[] a case differently than [the Supreme Court] on 22 a set of materially indistinguishable facts"; or (3) 23 "identif[y] the correct governing legal principle . . . but 24 unreasonably appl[y] that principle to the facts of the

necessarily interwoven with substantive federal law, and therefore a citation

to Rosen for the proposition that a claim is procedurally barred does not

present an "independent and adequate" procedural ground foreclosing review of

the merits in a subsequent habeas proceeding. See Brown II, 451 F.3d at 56-

Page 22 of 62
1 prisoner's case." See id. at 412-13. If none of these 2 conditions is met, even if the federal court would have 3 reached a different conclusion on direct review, the 4 petition must be denied. "As we have interpreted [the 5 AEDPA] standard, we decide not whether the state court 6 correctly interpreted the doctrine of federal law on which 7 the claim is predicated, but rather whether the state 8 court's interpretation was unreasonable in light of the 9 holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time." 10 Policano v. Herbert, 507 F.3d 111, 115 (2d Cir. 2007) 11 (internal quotation marks omitted). To that end, "the range 12 of reasonable judgment can depend in part on the nature of 13 the relevant rule. If a legal rule is specific, the range 14 may be narrow . . . As a result, evaluating whether a rule 15 application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's 16 specificity." Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 17 (2004). 18 19 B. "Clearly Established" Law: Apprendi, Ring, Blakely, and 20 Cunningham 21 22 In the seminal case of Apprendi v. New Jersey, the 23 Supreme Court applied the Sixth Amendment's guarantee to a 24 trial by an impartial jury to a state law triggering
Page 23 of 62
1 enhanced sentencing ranges based on judicial factfinding. 2 530 U.S. at 490. There, a New Jersey hate-crime statute 3 permitted the trial judge to impose an "extended term" of 4 imprisonment if the judge found, by a preponderance of the 5 evidence, that the defendant committed the crime "with a 6 purpose to intimidate an individual or group" based on 7 certain enumerated characteristics. Id. at 468-69. The 8 Supreme Court struck down the statute as a violation of the 9 Sixth Amendment. Id. at 497. Because the hate-crime 10 statute permitted a sentencing judge to enhance a 11 defendant's term of incarceration beyond the maximum 12 otherwise authorized for the underlying offense, based on 13 facts found by the judge by a preponderance of the evidence, 14 the defendant was effectively being charged, convicted, and 15 sentenced to a more serious crime without the protections of 16 a jury trial.5 See id. at 483. The Court in Apprendi set 17 forth the rule and its exception, both now well settled: 18 "Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that 19 increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed 20 statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved [End Page 5]
Apprendi was convicted of the crime of possession of a firearm for an

unlawful purpose, punishable under New Jersey law by a term of imprisonment of

five to ten years; following the hate-crime enhancement imposed by the

sentencing judge, a term of ten to twenty years was authorized.
Page 24 of 62
1 beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 490 (emphasis added). 2 The exception for prior convictions preserved the 3 Court's earlier holding in Almendarez-Torres v. United 4 States, which affirmed the constitutionality of the use of 5 recidivism as a judicially determined "sentencing factor" 6 authorizing an enhanced sentence. See 523 U.S. 224, 247 7 (1998). There, the Court rejected the argument that 8 8 U.S.C. § 1326(b)(2) violated a defendant's right to a jury 9 trial because it authorized an enhanced penalty for any 10 alien caught reentering the United States after being 11 deported, if the initial deportation "was subsequent to a 12 conviction for commission of an aggravated felony." 8 13 U.S.C. § 1326(b)(2); see id. at 226-28. According to the 14 Court, "the sentencing factor at issue here "" recidivism "" 15 is a traditional, if not the most traditional, basis for a 16 sentencing court's increasing an offender's sentence." 17 Almendarez-Torres, 523 U.S. at 243 (emphasis added). 18 In reaffirming the constitutionality of the use of 19 recidivism as a judicially-found sentencing factor, the 20 Supreme Court has since emphasized that the existence of 21 procedural safeguards embedded in prior criminal 22 proceedings, as well as the lack of dispute or uncertainty
Page 25 of 62
1 as to the "fact" of a prior conviction, "mitigate[] the due 2 process and Sixth Amendment concerns otherwise implicated in 3 allowing a judge to determine a "˜fact' increasing the 4 punishment beyond the maximum of a statutory range." 5 Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 488. To be sure, "[t]he Court's 6 repeated emphasis on the distinctive significance of 7 recidivism leaves no question that the Court regarded that 8 fact as potentially distinguishable for constitutional 9 purposes from other facts that might extend the range of 10 possible sentencing." Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227, 11 249 (1999); see also Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20, 26 (1992) 12 (acknowledging that recidivism has formed the basis for 13 sentencing enhancements "dat[ing] back to colonial times," 14 and that recidivist sentencing laws were "currently . . . in 15 effect in all 50 states"). 16 The rule of Apprendi was later reinforced in Ring v. 17 Arizona, in which the Supreme Court struck down a capital 18 sentencing scheme that vested the trial judge with the 19 discretion to determine the presence or absence of 20 statutorily enumerated aggravating factors required for the 21 imposition of a death sentence. 536 U.S. 584, 588 (2002). 22 Under the Arizona law, a defendant could not be sentenced to
Page 26 of 62
1 death unless the judge found at least one "aggravating 2 circumstance." Id. at 592-93. Absent that factual finding, 3 the defendant faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. 4 Id. at 597. The result was therefore presaged by Apprendi: 5 "[b]ecause Arizona's enumerated aggravating factors operate 6 as "˜the functional equivalent of an element of a greater 7 offense,' the Sixth Amendment requires that they be found by 8 a jury." Id. at 609 (quoting Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 494 9 n.19). That Arizona dubbed those findings "aggravating 10 factors" altered the analysis no more than New Jersey's use 11 of the term "sentencing enhancement," because "[t]he 12 dispositive question . . . is one not of form, but effect." 13 Ring, 536 U.S. at 602 (internal quotation marks omitted). 14 In Blakely v. Washington, the Supreme Court expanded6 on [End Page 6]
We agree with the panel opinion insofar as it acknowledged that the

principle announced in Blakely was not "clearly established" prior to its

disposition. See Besser, 601 F.3d at 181-83; see also Brown II, 451 F.3d at

57 n.1; Brown I, 409 F.3d at 533-34. Because Blakely extended the rule of

Apprendi, instead of merely applying it to a new set of facts, its holding was

not "dictated" by prior Supreme Court precedent, and it therefore does not

apply retroactively on collateral review under the Teague doctrine or AEDPA.

See Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 301 (1989) (plurality opinion); Mungo v.

Duncan, 393 F.3d 327, 333-34 (2d Cir. 2004). But the Supreme Court has not

definitively stated when the "˜snapshot' is taken to determine the universe of

clearly established Supreme Court precedent for purposes of AEDPA. Compare

Williams, 529 U.S. at 390 (referring to point at which the "state-court

conviction became final") (Stevens, J., for the Court), with id. at 412

(focusing on the "time of the relevant state-court decision") (O'Connor, J.,

for the Court). This poses a question of federal law unique to one of the

petitioners. Because Blakely was issued after the Appellate Division

adjudicated Phillips's appeal on the merits, but before the New York Court of

Appeals denied him leave to appeal, the time of that snapshot is relevant.

Yet we need not resolve that question today. Even assuming the operative date

to be the latter, for the reasons discussed infra, Phillips's reliance on
Page 27 of 62
1 the principle announced in Apprendi when it was presented 2 with a challenge to a sentence imposed pursuant to 3 Washington's Sentencing Reform Act. 542 U.S. at 313-14. 4 Blakely was convicted of "second-degree kidnaping involving 5 domestic violence and use of a firearm," which carried a 6 statutory maximum sentence of ten years. Id. at 298-99 7 (citing Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.40.030(1), 10.99.020(3)(p), 8 9.94A.125). However, pursuant to other statutory 9 provisions, a sentencing judge was required to impose a 10 "standard" sentence of between forty-nine and fifty-three 11 months unless the judge found "substantial and compelling 12 reasons justifying an exceptional sentence." Id. at 299 13 (quoting Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.120(2)). An illustrative 14 list of aggravating factors was set forth in the Act, and 15 the sentencing judge was required to set forth findings of 16 fact and conclusions of law supporting a so-called 17 "exceptional" sentence. Id. at 299. The trial judge 18 decided to give Blakely an exceptional sentence of ninety 19 months, based on the fact that he had acted with "deliberate 20 cruelty," one of the enumerated grounds for departure. Id. 21 at 300.

Blakely does not alter the resolution of his petition.
Page 28 of 62
1 The Supreme Court reversed the sentence. The Court 2 first restated the familiar rule (and exception) of 3 Apprendi: "Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any 4 fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the 5 prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, 6 and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 301 (emphasis 7 added). But the Blakely court went further, and clarified 8 that the relevant "statutory maximum" may not necessarily 9 coincide with the maximum penalty prescribed by the penal 10 code. Instead, "the "˜statutory maximum' for Apprendi 11 purposes is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely 12 on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or 13 admitted by the defendant." Id. at 303 (emphasis in 14 original). For Blakely, the relevant "Apprendi maximum" was 15 fifty-three months: Because the judge was powerless to 16 sentence Blakely to anything more than fifty-three months 17 based solely on his conviction and the facts admitted 18 pursuant to his guilty plea, the statutory maximum was "no 19 more 10 years . . . than it was 20 years in Apprendi 20 (because that is what the judge could have imposed upon 21 finding a hate crime) or death in Ring (because that is what 22 the judge could have imposed upon finding an aggravator)."
Page 29 of 62
1 Id. at 304. 2 Moreover, Blakely clarified that a sentencing scheme 3 can violate the Sixth Amendment even if those "facts" that a 4 sentencing judge is required to find are not specifically 5 enumerated by statute. Id. at 305. That the list of 6 aggravating circumstances in the Washington statute was 7 "illustrative rather than exhaustive" did not elide the 8 constitutional flaw: "Whether the judge's authority to 9 impose an enhanced sentence depends on finding a specified 10 fact (as in Apprendi), one of several specified facts (as in 11 Ring), or any aggravating fact (as [in Blakely])," id., the 12 authority is derivative of an unconstitutional source. 13 Because Blakely's ninety-month sentence could not have been 14 imposed but for the judge's finding of "deliberate cruelty," 15 it was imposed in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Id. 16 Thus, Blakely settled that the Apprendi maximum is the 17 sentence that is authorized based solely on those factual 18 predicates that are found within the constraints of the 19 Sixth Amendment. That is, those facts that are: (1) proven 20 to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) admitted by the 21 defendant; or (3) findings of recidivism. 22 Lastly, in Cunningham v. California, the Supreme Court
Page 30 of 62
1 addressed the validity of California's determinate 2 sentencing law ("DSL") in light of Apprendi, Ring and 3 Blakely. Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 270, 274 4 (2007). Under the DSL, most substantive offenses were 5 assigned three tiers of determinate sentences: a lower-, a 6 middle-, and an upper-term sentence. Id. at 277. But the 7 discretion of the trial judge to select either the upper- 8 term or lower-term sentence was circumscribed: the statute 9 provided that "the court shall order imposition of the 10 middle term, unless there are circumstances in aggravation 11 or mitigation of the crime." Id. (quoting Cal. Penal Code § 12 1170(b)) (emphasis added). Circumstances in aggravation 13 were defined as "facts which justify the imposition of the 14 upper prison term," which were to be "established by a 15 preponderance of the evidence" and "stated orally on the 16 record." Id. at 278 (quoting Cal. Jud. Council Rules 17 4.405(d), 4.420(b), 4.420(e)) (emphasis in original). 18 Hence, the middle term was the default sentence absent 19 further factual findings. 20 Cunningham was convicted of "continuous sexual abuse of 21 a child" under the age of fourteen, for which the prescribed 22 terms were six, twelve, and sixteen years, respectively.
Page 31 of 62
1 Id. at 275. At a post-trial sentencing hearing, the judge 2 found by a preponderance of the evidence six aggravating 3 circumstances including, inter alia, the "particular 4 vulnerability" of his victim. Id. Cunningham was sentenced 5 to the upper term of sixteen years. Id. at 276. 6 The Supreme Court held that the DSL violated the Sixth 7 Amendment. In rejecting the State's argument that the 8 Apprendi maximum was the upper-term sentence "" for 9 Cunningham, sixteen years "" the Court reaffirmed the 10 principle announced in Blakely that a sentence must be fully 11 authorized by factual predicates obtained in compliance with 12 the Constitution: "If the jury's verdict alone does not 13 authorize the sentence, if, instead, the judge must find an 14 additional fact to impose the longer term, the Sixth 15 Amendment requirement is not satisfied." Id. at 290. 16 Because the judge was required to make a factual finding in 17 order to impose the upper-term sentence, the Apprendi 18 maximum was not the upper term, but the middle term, and the 19 use of judicial factfinding to impose the upper term 20 violated the Sixth Amendment. Id. at 292-93. 21 Because Cunningham was decided well after the 22 conviction of each petitioner became final, it is urged by
Page 32 of 62
1 the State that we cannot consider it in our analysis. To 2 the contrary, a Supreme Court holding is generally operative 3 retroactively in a collateral proceeding so long as it does 4 not announce a "new rule" within the meaning of Teague. 5 See, e.g., Beard v. Banks, 542 U.S. 406, 411 (2004). "[A] 6 case announces a new rule when it breaks new ground or 7 imposes a new obligation on the States or Federal 8 Government. To put it differently, a case announces a new 9 rule if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at 10 the time the defendant's conviction became final." Teague, 11 489 U.S. at 301 (emphasis added, internal citations 12 omitted). Similarly, under AEDPA, "clearly established 13 federal law" is "law that is dictated by Supreme Court 14 precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction 15 became final." McKinney v. Artuz, 326 F.3d 87, 96 (2d Cir. 16 2003) (internal quotations and brackets omitted). Thus, if 17 the holding of a case was "dictated" by extant Supreme Court 18 precedent at a particular time, the constitutional rule 19 embodied in that case was necessarily "clearly established" 20 at that time. 21 In that light, we have no trouble concluding that the 22 identification of a Sixth Amendment violation in Cunningham
Page 33 of 62
1 was dictated at the time that the petitioners' convictions 2 became final on direct review.7 Specifically, the decision 3 in Blakely can be said to have compelled the result in 4 Cunningham, because Blakely left no doubt that the Apprendi 5 maximum is the highest sentence authorized by 6 constitutionally-obtained factual predicates alone: those 7 contained in the jury verdict, those admitted by the 8 defendant, and those respecting recidivism. See Blakely, 9 542 U.S. at 305. Thus, it should have been "apparent to all 10 reasonable jurists," Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 11 527-28 (1997), that the demise of California's DSL was 12 portended by the holding of Blakely. The State offers no 13 persuasive analytical distinction between the sentencing 14 schemes in Blakely and Cunningham, nor can we discern any.8 [End Page 7]
For the purposes of Teague, a state conviction becomes "final" when

"the availability of direct appeal to the state courts has been exhausted and

the time for filing a petition for a writ of certiorari has elapsed or a

timely filed petition has been finally denied." Caspari v. Bohlen, 510 U.S. 383, 390 (1994). The moment of finality for Teague purposes is not to be

confused with the relevant time for determining what federal law is "clearly

established" for purposes of AEDPA. The two concepts are distinct, and we

express no view as to the proper time at which to fix the latter. See supra

note 6.[End Page 8]
The existence of dissenting opinions in Cunningham does not persuade

us otherwise. See 549 U.S. at 295 (Kennedy, J., dissenting); id. at 310

(Alito, J., dissenting). The dissenters questioned whether California's DSL

might be susceptible to a remedial construction akin to that afforded the

federal sentencing scheme in Booker, see id. at 297-311 (Alito, J.,

dissenting), and expressed fundamental disagreement with Apprendi itself,

positing a limiting principle to reduce its collateral effects, see id. at

295-97 (Kennedy, J., dissenting). In any event, we do not presume that a non-

unanimous decision by the Supreme Court necessarily establishes a "new rule"

of law. See, e.g., Banks, 542 U.S. at 416 n.5 ("Because the focus of the
Page 34 of 62
1 See Butler v. Curry, 528 F.3d 624, 636 (9th Cir. 2008) 2 (noting that the Court in Cunningham "simply applied the 3 rule of Blakely to a distinct but closely analogous 4 sentencing scheme"). Because Cunningham did not extend the 5 principle announced in Blakely, but merely applied it to a 6 new set of facts, we hold that Cunningham constitutes 7 "clearly established law" for the petitioners. 8 Nevertheless, for reasons discussed in the remainder of 9 this opinion, we conclude that neither Cunningham nor any 10 other clearly established Supreme Court precedent supports 11 the petitioners' position. 12 13 C. Apprendi and New York's PFO Statute 14 1. The operative interpretation: Rosen, Rivera and 15 Quinones 16 17 The New York Court of Appeals has interpreted the PFO 18 statute on three occasions since the Supreme Court's 19 decision in Apprendi, each time affirming its 20 constitutionality in response to Sixth Amendment challenges. 21 See People v. Quinones, 12 N.Y.3d 116, 131 (2009); People v. 22 Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d 61, 71 (2005); People v. Rosen, 96 N.Y.2d

inquiry is whether reasonable jurists could differ as to whether precedent

compels the sought-for rule, we do not suggest that the mere existence of a

dissent suffices to show that the rule is new." (emphasis in original)).
Page 35 of 62
1 329, 336 (2001). Of course, we do not defer to that court's 2 interpretation of federal law, but we are bound by its 3 construction of New York law in conducting our analysis. We 4 examine each case in turn. 5 In Rosen, the New York Court of Appeals rejected for 6 the first time an Apprendi challenge to New York's PFO 7 statute. See 96 N.Y.2d at 335. The court acknowledged the 8 familiar rule of Apprendi: "Other than the fact of a prior 9 conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime 10 beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to 11 a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 334 12 (quoting Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490). But the court went on 13 to hold that the only "fact" necessary to impose a PFO 14 sentence under § 70.10 is the "fact" of recidivism, placing 15 the PFO statute squarely within the exception to the rule: 16 "It is clear from the . . . statutory framework that the 17 prior felony convictions are the sole determin[ant] of 18 whether a defendant is subject to enhanced sentencing as a 19 persistent felony offender." Id. at 335 (emphasis added). 20 Only after that finding is made will a court look to the 21 defendant's "history and character," and the "nature and 22 circumstances of his criminal conduct," to determine where,
Page 36 of 62
1 within this now expanded sentencing range, a sentence should 2 be imposed. See id. To that end, "the sentencing court is 3 thus only fulfilling its traditional role "" giving due 4 consideration to agreed-upon factors "" in determining an 5 appropriate sentence within the permissible statutory 6 range." Id. 7 In Rivera, the New York Court of Appeals revisited the 8 constitutionality of § 70.10 in light of Blakely and Ring, 9 and repeated its conclusion that recidivism findings are the 10 only necessary factual predicates to impose a PFO sentence. 11 Because "[t]he statute authorizes indeterminate sentencing 12 once the court finds persistent felony offender status," 13 Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 66 (emphasis added), the court held, 14 "the predicate felonies are both necessary and sufficient 15 conditions for imposition of the authorized sentence for 16 recidivism; that is why we pointedly called the predicate 17 felonies the "˜sole' determinant [in Rosen]," id. at 68 18 (quoting Rosen, 96 N.Y.2d at 335). 19 The court acknowledged that the statute, as written, is 20 susceptible to a construction that would pose an Apprendi 21 problem: 22 We could have decided Rosen differently by 23 reading the statutes to require judicial
Page 37 of 62
1 factfinding as to the defendant's character and 2 criminal acts before he became eligible for a 3 persistent felony offender sentence. If we had 4 construed the statutes to require the court to 5 find additional facts about the defendant before 6 imposing a recidivism sentence, the statutes 7 would violate Apprendi. 8 Id. at 67 (emphasis in original). But, as the court 9 explained, the statutes raise no constitutional concern 10 because 11 we did not read the law that way. Under our 12 interpretation of the relevant statutes, 13 defendants are eligible for persistent felony 14 offender sentencing based solely on whether 15 they had two prior felony convictions. 16 Id. (emphasis in original). 17 In thus reiterating its construction of the PFO statute 18 in Rosen, the court in Rivera clearly construed state law to 19 provide for an expanded range of authorized sentences once a 20 defendant is adjudged a persistent felony offender, at which 21 point the trial judge is directed to exercise discretion in 22 determining where within that newly expanded range to impose 23 a sentence: 24 The statutory language requiring the sentencing 25 court to consider the specified factors and to 26 articulate the reason for the chosen sentence 27 grants defendants a right to an airing and an 28 explanation, not a result. 29 30 . . . .
Page 38 of 62
1 [A] defendant adjudicated as a persistent felony 2 offender has a statutory right to present 3 evidence that might influence the court to 4 exercise its discretion to hand down a sentence 5 as if no recidivism finding existed, while the 6 People retain the burden to show that the 7 defendant deserves the higher sentence. 8 9 Id. at 68. In other words, according to New York's highest 10 court, the maximum "range" of available sentences is 11 established once the defendant is proven to have two prior 12 qualifying felonies: The judge may impose a sentence within 13 the range permitted for an A-I felony, or may instead impose 14 a lower sentence within the range permitted for a second 15 felony offense. 16 Rivera also addressed the statute's "mandatory 17 consideration and articulation" of those factors that a 18 trial judge finds relevant in determining what sentence to 19 impose. Id. at 69. The court interpreted that legislative 20 directive to serve two distinct functions. 21 First, it provides a defendant with notice and an 22 opportunity to respond to those factors that the court deems 23 relevant to the exercise of its sentencing discretion within 24 the ranges authorized by the PFO statute. "The statutory 25 language requiring the sentencing court to consider the 26 specified factors and to articulate the reason for the
Page 39 of 62
1 chosen sentence grants defendants a right to an airing and 2 an explanation, not a result." Id. at 68; cf. Rita v. 3 United States, 551 U.S. 338, 356 (2007) ("Confidence in a 4 judge's use of reason underlies the public's trust in the 5 judicial institution. A public statement of those reasons 6 helps provide the public with the assurance that creates 7 that trust."). 8 And second, the judge's articulation of reasoning 9 facilitates an appellate review function that is distinct 10 from the issue of whether the PFO sentence was lawfully 11 imposed. In New York, intermediate appellate courts are 12 vested with the capacious authority to review and modify 13 criminal sentences in the interests of justice. See N.Y. 14 Crim Proc. Law § 470.15(3)(c).9 Notably, that oversight 15 power is unrelated to the legality of the sentence; the 16 power to reverse or modify a sentence based on a legal error 17 is addressed separately in the statute. See id. § 18 470.15(3)(a). Even absent legal error, it rests within the 19 discretion of the Appellate Division to modify a sentence in 20 the interest of justice if it is deemed to be "unduly harsh [End Page 9]
"A reversal or a modification of a judgment, sentence or order must be

based upon a determination made . . . [a]s a matter of discretion in the

interest of justice." N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 470.15(3)(c).
Page 40 of 62
1 or severe."10 In that light, Rivera notes, a sentencing 2 judge should set forth those considerations deemed relevant 3 to the imposition of a PFO sentence for the benefit of an 4 appellate court that must later determine whether the 5 sentence was too severe. Rivera explains: 6 [O]nce a defendant is adjudged a persistent 7 felony offender, a recidivism sentence cannot be 8 held erroneous as a matter of law, unless the 9 sentencing court acts arbitrarily or 10 irrationally. 11 12 The court's opinion is, of course, subject to 13 appellate review, as is any exercise of 14 discretion. The Appellate Division, in its own 15 discretion, may conclude that a persistent felony 16 offender sentence is too harsh or otherwise 17 improvident. In this way, the Appellate Division 18 can and should mitigate inappropriately severe 19 applications of the statute. A determination of 20 that kind, however, is based not on the law but 21 as an exercise of the Appellate Division's 22 discretion in the interest of justice as reserved 23 uniquely to that Court. 24 25 5 N.Y.3d at 68-69 (emphasis added) (citing N.Y. Crim. Proc. 26 Law § 470.20(6)). Rivera thus concluded that the PFO 27 statute does not violate the principle announced in Blakely, 28 because it simply creates a recidivist sentencing scheme: 29 the only factual predicates necessary for a judge to impose [End Page 10]
"Upon modifying a judgment or reversing a sentence as a matter of

discretion in the interest of justice upon the ground that the sentence is

unduly harsh or severe, the court must itself impose some legally authorized

lesser sentence." N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 470.20(6).
Page 41 of 62
1 a class A-I sentence are those respecting the defendant's 2 criminal history, and it therefore falls within the carve- 3 out of Almendarez-Torres. Id. at 67. 4 Most recently, in Quinones, the New York Court of 5 Appeals reaffirmed the validity of the PFO statute in light 6 of the Supreme Court's decision in Cunningham, which it 7 found readily distinguishable. It reiterated much of the 8 reasoning of Rivera, concluding that 9 the New York sentencing scheme, after a defendant 10 is deemed eligible to be sentenced as a 11 persistent felony offender, requires that the 12 sentencing court make a qualitative judgment 13 about, among other things, the defendant's 14 criminal history and the circumstances 15 surrounding a particular offense in order to 16 determine whether an enhanced sentence, under the 17 statutorily prescribed sentencing range, is 18 warranted. Stated differently, New York's 19 sentencing scheme, by requiring that sentencing 20 courts consider defendant's "history and 21 character" and the "nature and circumstances" of 22 defendant's conduct in deciding where, within a 23 range, to impose an enhanced sentence, sets the 24 parameters for the performance of one of the 25 sentencing court's most traditional and basic 26 functions, i.e., the exercise of sentencing 27 discretion. 28 12 N.Y.3d at 130. 29 30 2. Brown I and Brown II 31 Our Court has examined the PFO statute on two prior
Page 42 of 62
1 occasions. Each was presented in the posture of a habeas 2 petition, and in both cases we denied relief. 3 In Brown I, we deemed it a reasonable conclusion by the 4 state court that "the judicial finding of at least two 5 predicate felony convictions comported with the dictates of 6 Apprendi," and noted that the second-prong inquiry called 7 for under the PFO statute "is of a very different sort" from 8 the judicial factfinding proscribed by Apprendi. 409 F.3d 9 at 534. "It is a vague, amorphous assessment of whether, in 10 the court's "˜opinion,' "˜extended incarceration and life-time 11 supervision' of the defendant "˜will best serve the public 12 interest.'" Id. (quoting N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10(2)). In 13 sum, "[w]e [could not] say the New York Court of Appeals 14 unreasonably applied Apprendi when it concluded that this 15 second determination is something quite different from the 16 fact-finding addressed in Apprendi and its predecessors." 17 Id. at 534-35. 18 In Brown II, we revisited the issue in light of the 19 Supreme Court's holding in Ring, and found the PFO statute 20 to be distinguishable from the Arizona capital sentencing

Page 43 of 62
1 scheme invalidated in Ring. Brown II, 451 F.3d at 59.11 We 2 noted that "Ring did not expound upon the rule announced in 3 Apprendi in a way that is significant to the disposition of 4 this case." Id. "Each case involved a statute that 5 required the sentencing judge to find some specified fact 6 before imposing an enhanced sentence." Id. Thus, we 7 concluded that it was not unreasonable for the state court 8 to identify a crucial distinction between the 9 unconstitutional factfinding required under the statutes at 10 issue in both Ring and Apprendi, and the discretionary 11 assessment called for by the PFO statute. Id. 12 But neither Brown I nor Brown II speaks to the question 13 that we face today: In light of the New York Court of 14 Appeals' construction of the PFO statute in Rivera, and the 15 Supreme Court holdings in Blakely and Cunningham, does the 16 PFO statute suffer from a constitutional defect that the 17 state courts were objectively unreasonable to overlook? We 18 hold that it does not. 19 20 [End Page 11]
Although decided in 2006, Brown II did not consider the effects, if

any, of Blakely on the validity of the PFO statute because the petitioner's

conviction in Brown II became final before Blakely was decided. Brown II, 451

F.3d at 57 n.1.
Page 44 of 62
1 D. The New York courts did not engage in an unreasonable 2 application of clearly established Supreme Court 3 precedent in affirming the petitioners' sentences. 4 Petitioners rely principally on two distinct, though 5 related, arguments to support their contention that the PFO 6 statute requires sentencing judges in New York to engage in 7 unconstitutional factfinding. First, they urge that the 8 step two determination under the PFO statute violates the 9 Sixth Amendment because a sentencing judge is required to 10 make factual findings beyond those respecting the predicate 11 felony convictions before imposing a class A-I sentence. 12 Second, they argue that even if a judge may impose a PFO 13 sentence based solely on the defendant's predicate felony 14 convictions, the step two determination nonetheless entails 15 unconstitutional factfinding because a judge is required to 16 form a qualitative judgment about the defendant's criminal 17 history before imposing a PFO sentence, an inquiry that 18 necessarily implicates facts beyond the purview of 19 Almendarez-Torres. 20 Petitioners' first contention is that the step two 21 determination under the PFO statute (whether a class A-I 22 sentence is warranted) consists of impermissible factfinding 23 under Blakely because it requires the judge to hold a
Page 45 of 62
1 hearing and set forth findings of fact, beyond those of the 2 prior convictions, before she may impose a PFO sentence. 3 For the reasons that follow, we cannot say that the state 4 courts were unreasonable to reject this argument. 5 Whether the step two determination under the PFO 6 statute entails unconstitutional factfinding hinges not on 7 its nature, but its effect. A core principle has guided 8 this aspect of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence in the wake 9 of Apprendi: judicial factfinding violates a defendant's 10 right to a jury trial when it results in a sentence in 11 excess of the Apprendi maximum for a given offense. The 12 Apprendi maximum, in turn, is the apogee of potential 13 sentences that are authorized based on factual predicates 14 obtained in compliance with the Sixth Amendment: those found 15 by the jury, those admitted by the defendant, and findings 16 of recidivism. In contrast, judicial factfinding that is 17 undertaken to select an appropriate sentence within an 18 authorized range "" up to and including the Apprendi maximum 19 "" does not offend the Sixth Amendment. For "the Sixth 20 Amendment by its terms is not a limitation on judicial 21 power, but a reservation of jury power." Blakely, 542 U.S. 22 at 308. "The Sixth Amendment question, the Court has said,
Page 46 of 62
1 is whether the law forbids a judge to increase a defendant's 2 sentence unless the judge finds facts that the jury did not 3 find (and the offender did not concede)." Rita, 551 U.S. at 4 352 (citing Blakely, Cunningham and Booker) (emphases in 5 original). 6 Our analysis must therefore begin with the PFO statute 7 to determine the Apprendi maximum for each petitioner. That 8 assessment is necessarily guided by the construction placed 9 on the statute by the New York Court of Appeals, which, with 10 some emphasis, has interpreted the statute to authorize a 11 class A-I sentence based on the defendant's predicate felony 12 convictions alone: "The statute authorizes indeterminate 13 sentencing once the court finds persistent felony offender 14 status," and "defendants are eligible for persistent felony 15 offender sentencing based solely on whether they had two 16 prior convictions." Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 66, 67 (emphasis in 17 original). Rivera emphasized that "the predicate felonies 18 [are] the "˜sole' determinant" for whether a judge is 19 authorized to impose a PFO sentence, and that "no additional 20 factfinding beyond the fact of two prior felony convictions 21 is required" to impose the enhanced sentence." Id. at 68, 70 22 (emphasis in original).
Page 47 of 62
1 In essence, Rivera construed the statutory directive 2 that a sentencing judge articulate the reasons for imposing 3 a class A-I sentence as one of procedure: the explanation 4 itself satisfies the statutory requirement, regardless of 5 whether it contains any facts beyond those respecting the 6 defendant's predicate felonies. Accordingly, any other 7 facts upon which the sentencing judge chooses to rely cannot 8 properly be understood as "elements" of the underlying 9 offense in terms of Apprendi, because they are not necessary 10 factual predicates to the imposition of the sentence. 11 Instead, they simply inform the judge's discretion to select 12 an appropriate sentence within those ranges authorized by 13 statute.12 [End Page 12]
Petitioners urge that the PFO statute is constitutionally defective

because the authorized ranges within which a judge has the discretion to

operate are not always continuous. That is, if a sentencing judge decides

that a PFO sentence is not warranted, the judge may not impose just any lesser

sentence. Instead, the judge must impose a sentence authorized for a second

felony offender, which, in some circumstances, might be well below that

authorized for a PFO. See Besser, 601 F.3d at 172 n.7 (referring to this

potential discontinuity as a sentencing "dead-zone"). For example, a

defendant who stands convicted of a class D felony faces a sentence of between

fifteen to twenty-five years and life as a PFO, but generally a maximum of

seven years if the judge elects to sentence him as a second felony offender.

See N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.04(3)(c), 70.06(3)(d). Our Court is not persuaded

that such a sentencing gap implicates the Sixth Amendment, for there is no

constitutional mandate that a judge's discretion to reduce sentences exist

unfettered. Nor is such a gap at all unique to the PFO scheme. For instance,

a defendant convicted of his second class B felony drug offense may be

sentenced to either (1) between two and twelve years in prison; or (2)

probation, but the judge is not authorized to sentence the defendant to

anything in between. See N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.70(3)(b)(i), 70.70(3)(c),

60.04(5). In any event, the Supreme Court has never suggested "" much less

clearly held "" that a sentencing scheme raises Sixth Amendment concerns simply

because the court's discretionary reduction of a sentence will place the
Page 48 of 62
1 Petitioners assert that Rivera's construction of the 2 PFO statute is belied by its text, specifically the 3 provision stating that "[s]uch sentence may not be imposed 4 unless . . . [the court] is of the opinion that the history 5 and character of the defendant and the nature and 6 circumstances of his criminal conduct [warrant the 7 sentence.]." N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1) (emphasis 8 added). If, as petitioners contend, those findings as to 9 the defendant's history and character are factual predicates 10 essential to the imposition of the A-I sentence, the PFO 11 statute would violate the Sixth Amendment. The New York 12 Court of Appeals acknowledged as much: "If we had construed 13 the statutes to require the court to find additional facts 14 about the defendant before imposing a recidivism sentence, 15 the statutes would violate Apprendi." Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 16 67. But, as we have already observed, the court plainly 17 stated that it "did not read the law that way." Id. 18 Whether our Court agrees or disagrees with the Court of 19 Appeals' construction of New York law is of no moment. As 20 the Supreme Court has long held, "state courts are the

defendant in a significantly lower sentencing range. See Williams v. Artuz,

237 F.3d 147, 153-54 (2d Cir. 2001) (habeas relief barred where "no Supreme

Court holding" supporting the petitioner's claim).
Page 49 of 62
1 ultimate expositors of state law," Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 2 U.S. 684, 691 (1975), and "[n]either this Court nor any 3 other federal tribunal has any authority to place a 4 construction on a state statute different from the one 5 rendered by the highest court of the State." Johnson v. 6 Fankell, 520 U.S. 911, 916 (1997). More, it would be 7 perverse for a federal court to discourage a state court 8 from searching for "every reasonable construction" of a 9 state statute to "save [the] statute from 10 unconstitutionality." Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 11 2896, 2929-30 & n.41 (2010) (quoting Hooper v. California, 12 155 U.S. 648, 657 (1895); see also United States v. 13 Magassouba, 544 F.3d 387, 404 (2d Cir. 2008) (collecting 14 cases discussing rule of constitutional avoidance); In re 15 Jacob, 86 N.Y.2d 651, 667 (1995) (same). 16 Of course, we recognize that we are bound only by the 17 New York Court of Appeals' interpretation of what the terms 18 of the statute mean, and that we are not similarly 19 constrained by that court's pronouncement of the statute's 20 "operative effect" for constitutional purposes. See 21 Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476, 483-84 (1993). Yet the 22 decision in Rivera was not merely a characterization of the
Page 50 of 62
1 PFO statute's practical operation, but an exposition of its 2 terms. Under Rivera, the statute authorizes a class A-I 3 sentence once the court establishes the defendant's status 4 as a persistent felony offender, and a judge may impose an 5 enhanced sentence based on the defendant's criminal history 6 alone. Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 66, 70-71. 7 We must presume that the New York Court of Appeals 8 meant what it said: the statutory directive to consider the 9 history and character of the defendant, and the nature and 10 circumstances of his crime, is a procedural requirement that 11 is only triggered once a judge is already authorized to 12 impose the class A-I sentence. According to Rivera, it 13 would not be an error of law for a sentencing judge to 14 impose a class A-I sentence based solely on the recidivism 15 findings alone. "Once a defendant is adjudged a persistent 16 felony offender, a recidivism sentence cannot be held 17 erroneous as a matter of law, unless the sentencing court 18 acts arbitrarily or irrationally." Id. at 68. Lower courts 19 in New York, as they must, consistently rely upon that 20 construction in sentencing. Compare People v. Bazemore, 52 21 A.D.3d 727, 728, 860 N.Y.S.2d 602, 603 (2d Dep't 2008) 22 (noting that lower court's "conclusory recitation"
Page 51 of 62
1 insufficient to comply with procedural requirements of the 2 PFO statute), and People v. Murdaugh, 38 A.D.3d 918, 919-20, 3 833 N.Y.S.2d 557, 559 (2d Dep't 2007) (same), with People v. 4 Tucker, 41 A.D.3d 210, 212, 839 N.Y.S.2d 15, 18 (1st Dep't 5 2007) (affirming PFO sentence based solely on lower court's 6 evaluation of defendant's criminal history), and People v. 7 Young, 41 A.D.3d 318, 319-20, 838 N.Y.S.2d 550, 551-52 (1st 8 Dep't 2007) (same). 9 Petitioners also observe that in Rivera, the Court of 10 Appeals reaffirmed that at step two of New York's PFO 11 scheme, "the People retain the burden to show that the 12 defendant deserves a higher sentence," see 5 N.Y.3d at 68, 13 and argue that this shows that the effect of the statute is 14 to require additional factfinding before an A-I sentence may 15 be lawfully imposed. We disagree with this 16 characterization, for again, it misconstrues the effect of 17 the facts found at this step. Rivera's reference to the 18 State's "burden" notwithstanding, the court made clear that 19 "Criminal Procedure Law § 400.20, by authorizing a hearing 20 on facts relating to the defendant's history and character, 21 does not grant defendants a legal entitlement to have those 22 facts receive controlling weight in influencing the court's
Page 52 of 62
1 opinion." Id. (emphasis added); see also id. (indicating 2 similarly that "a defendant adjudicated as a persistent 3 felony offender has a statutory right to present evidence 4 that might influence the court to exercise its discretion to 5 hand down a sentence as if no recidivism finding existed" 6 (emphasis added)). 7 Thus, while the meaning of Rivera's reference to the 8 State's "burden" is not entirely clear "" it might, for 9 example, mean that the State is obligated to prove by a 10 preponderance of the evidence any of the facts it introduces 11 in an attempt to persuade the sentencing judge, or might 12 merely refer in an informal sense to the notion that it 13 typically will be incumbent upon the State to oppose 14 sentencing arguments advanced by defendants "" the Court of 15 Appeals was emphatic that the statute does not impose an 16 overarching evidentiary burden upon the State that must be 17 satisfied before the sentencing court may lawfully impose an 18 A-I sentence. In other words, although the sentencing 19 judge, in considering whether to impose the statutorily 20 authorized A-I sentence or instead a lesser sentence, "may 21 implicitly rule on those facts he deems important to the 22 exercise of his sentencing discretion," the facts in
Page 53 of 62
1 question "do not pertain to whether the defendant has a 2 legal right to a lesser sentence," a distinction that "makes 3 all the difference insofar as judicial impingement upon the 4 traditional role of the jury is concerned." Blakely, 542 5 U.S. at 309 (emphasis in original). 6 In sum, because the New York Court of Appeals has 7 interpreted step two of the PFO sentencing scheme as a 8 procedural requirement that informs only the sentencing 9 court's discretion, the New York courts were not 10 unreasonable to conclude that this consideration is unlike 11 the factfinding requirements invalidated in Blakely and 12 Cunningham.13 Here, under the New York Court of Appeals' 13 construction, the Apprendi maximum for each petitioner was 14 fixed at that of a class A-I felony once the recidivism 15 findings were established: an indeterminate sentence, with a [End Page 13]
Indeed, as construed by the New York Court of Appeals, the step two

inquiry under the PFO statute might well be analogized to the judicial

consideration of statutory factors that Congress asks of district court judges

in the federal system. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Although § 3553(a) applies

to all federal sentences, whereas the challenged step two inquiry applies only

to PFO sentences, that distinction does not bear on our Sixth Amendment

analysis. Under both schemes the required discretionary assessment will have

an impact on the sentence ultimately imposed, but not an unconstitutional

impact, because the court is merely "finding facts" to aid in the selection of

an appropriate sentence within a pre-determined range authorized by statute.

And "[w]e have never doubted the authority of a judge to exercise broad

discretion in imposing a sentence within a statutory range." United States v.

Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 233 (2005). Just as "[i]n a system that says the judge

may punish burglary with 10 to 40 years, every burglar knows he is risking 40

years in jail," Blakely, 542 U.S. at 309, a third-time felon in New York knows

that he is risking twenty-five years to life in prison.
Page 54 of 62
1 minimum term of between fifteen and twenty-five years, and a 2 maximum term of life in prison. See N.Y. Penal Law § 3 70.10(2). Under Rivera, any facts that the sentencing judge 4 considered beyond those respecting recidivism do not 5 implicate the Sixth Amendment, for they did not "" and could 6 not "" lead to a sentence in excess of that Apprendi maximum. 7 Petitioners' first argument therefore does not persuade us 8 that habeas relief is warranted. 9 Petitioners' second argument also focuses on the step 10 two determination required under the PFO statute. They 11 contend that "" notwithstanding the Court of Appeals' 12 authoritative construction in Rivera "" the PFO statute 13 continues to require unconstitutional factfinding, because 14 even assuming the predicate felony convictions are 15 sufficient to authorize a PFO sentence, the mere fact of 16 those convictions does not suffice. Instead, a sentencing 17 judge must form an opinion about the nature of those 18 convictions before imposing a PFO sentence, an endeavor that 19 necessarily entails factfinding beyond the scope of 20 Almendarez-Torres. That is, a court is required to consider 21 subsidiary facts and surrounding circumstances of those 22 convictions to arrive at a conclusion whether "extended
Page 55 of 62
1 incarceration and life-time supervision will best serve the 2 public interest." N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10; see Rivera, 5 3 N.Y.3d at 70-71 (noting that a sentencing judge would be 4 authorized to impose a class A-I sentence with no further 5 factual findings, "[i]f, for example, a defendant had an 6 especially long and disturbing history of criminal 7 convictions"); see also Young, 41 A.D.3d at 320, 838 8 N.Y.S.2d at 552 (affirming sentence imposed based on 9 "court's discretionary evaluation of the seriousness of 10 defendant's criminal history"). Petitioners urge that this 11 assessment is a factfinding endeavor under Blakely, and must 12 therefore be reserved for a jury. 13 Assuming "" without deciding "" that petitioners are 14 correct in reading New York law to require a sentencing 15 judge to consider subsidiary facts respecting a defendant's 16 criminal history before imposing a PFO sentence, we are not 17 persuaded that such consideration equates to judicial 18 "factfinding" in violation of Blakely. At bottom, 19 petitioners urge that the Almendarez-Torres exception to the 20 rule of Apprendi should be read narrowly (and the rule of 21 Blakely broadly) to forbid a sentencing judge from forming 22 an opinion about a defendant's criminal history, based on
Page 56 of 62
1 facts underlying those prior convictions, before imposing a 2 recidivism sentence. Yet there is no clear holding of the 3 Supreme Court to command such a result.14 "Given the lack of 4 holdings from th[e] [Supreme Court]" construing the 5 recidivism exception as narrowly as petitioners urge, "it 6 cannot be said that the state court unreasonably applied 7 clearly established federal law." Carey v. Musladin, 549 8 U.S. 70, 77 (2006) (internal alterations and quotation marks 9 omitted); see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 72 10 (2003) (declining to find a legal principle "clearly 11 established" in light of Supreme Court precedents that "have 12 not been a model of clarity," and "have not established a 13 clear or consistent path for courts to follow"). [End Page 14]
The range of opinions authored by the Supreme Court in Shepard v.

United States, 544 U.S. 13 (2005), bespoke the lingering uncertainty

surrounding the recidivism exception, and suggested that the Court might be

poised to reconsider its holding in Almendarez-Torres. See id. at 25 (Souter,

J., for a plurality) (questioning whether facts relating to a defendant's

prior conviction could be considered by a sentencing judge in light of

Apprendi); id. at 27-28 (Thomas, J., concurring in part and concurring in the

judgment) (opining that the recidivism exception to Apprendi had been eroded

and should be overruled); id. at 37-38 (O'Connor, J., dissenting) (challenging

the plurality's purported extension of Apprendi, and defending the traditional

use of recidivism as a sentencing factor). In the intervening five years,

however, the Court has not undertaken such a reconsideration of Almendarez-

Torres, much less reversed or even limited its holding. Thus, in our own

review of federal sentences, we have concluded that, despite the reservations

expressed in Shepard, "Almendarez-Torres continues to bind this court in its

application of Apprendi." United States v. Snype, 441 F.3d 119, 148 (2d Cir.

2006); see also United States v. Bonilla, - - - F.3d - - -, No. 09-1799-cr,

2010 WL 3191402, at *8-9 (2d Cir. Aug. 13, 2010) (rejecting, as frivolous,

contention that prior conviction exception of Almendarez-Torres should be

Page 57 of 62
1 Given the lack of guidance as to the precise scope of 2 the recidivism exception, it is unsurprising that the 3 exception does not enjoy uniform application among appellate 4 courts charged with reviewing federal sentences. For 5 example, some courts, including our own, have held that the 6 recidivism exception encompasses such "related facts" as the 7 type and length of sentence imposed, and whether the 8 defendant was on probation when the crime was committed. 9 United States v. Cordero, 465 F.3d 626, 632-33 n.33 (5th 10 Cir. 2006); see also United States v. Corchado, 427 F.3d 11 815, 820 (10th Cir. 2005); United States v. Williams, 410 12 F.3d 397, 402 (7th Cir. 2005); United States v. Fagans, 406 13 F.3d 138, 141-42 (2d Cir. 2005). In contrast, the Ninth 14 Circuit has concluded that the defendant's probationary 15 status at the time of the crime does not fall within the 16 recidivism exception. See Butler v. Curry, 528 F.3d 624, 17 636 (9th Cir. 2008). Yet, notably, the Ninth Circuit has 18 also acknowledged that the principle remains unsettled, and 19 accordingly has refused to grant habeas relief when a state 20 court has concluded that probationary status may 21 constitutionally be relied upon as a recidivism-based 22 sentence enhancement. Kessee v. Mendoza-Powers, 574 F.3d
Page 58 of 62
1 675, 679 (9th Cir. 2009). 2 So too here. It might well be constitutionally 3 significant whether a sentencing judge is required to find, 4 for example, that a defendant's criminal history is 5 "especially violent" before imposing a sentence, or whether, 6 as in New York, a sentencing judge simply must find that the 7 nature of his criminal history justifies "extended 8 incarceration and life-time supervision." Or, perhaps after 9 Blakely and Cunningham, it does not matter. The Supreme 10 Court may answer that question at some future time. But, if 11 our Court cannot divine a clear answer from the Court's 12 existing holdings, AEDPA prevents us from faulting a state 13 court for selecting one reasonable conclusion over another. 14 For the time being, the recidivism exception remains, and 15 the Supreme Court has yet to assess a statute in light of 16 Blakely that tethers the authorization for an enhanced 17 sentence solely to findings respecting recidivism. We 18 therefore cannot say that the state courts unreasonably 19 applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent in 20 concluding that the PFO statute is simply different in kind 21 from those invalidated in Blakely and Cunningham. 22
Page 59 of 62
1 * * * 2 To conclude, the state courts were not unreasonable to 3 discern an appreciable distinction between the PFO statute 4 and those struck down in Blakely and Cunningham: the 5 Washington and California statutes stripped sentencing 6 judges of any discretion to impose an elevated sentence 7 unless they found an additional fact not embodied in the 8 jury verdict. In Blakely, a defendant found guilty of 9 kidnaping was entitled to a sentence of forty-nine to fifty- 10 three months, but for an additional finding of "substantial 11 and compelling reasons justifying an exceptional sentence." 12 542 U.S. at 299. In Cunningham, a defendant found guilty of 13 continuous sexual abuse of a child was entitled to a 14 sentence of twelve years, but for an additional finding of 15 "circumstances in aggravation." 549 U.S. at 277. 16 In contrast, the PFO statute "" as interpreted by the 17 New York Court of Appeals "" creates a recidivist sentencing 18 scheme in which the only factual predicates necessary to 19 impose the enhanced sentence relate to the defendant's 20 criminal history. Unlike in Blakely and Cunningham, 21 recidivism findings are the touchstone: the predicate 22 felonies alone expand the indeterminate sentencing range
Page 60 of 62
1 within which the judge has the discretion to operate, and 2 that discretion is cabined only by an assessment of 3 defendant's criminal history. And the Supreme Court has not 4 yet sounded the death knell for recidivist sentencing laws, 5 nor do its precedents counsel the extent to which a 6 sentencing judge may consider facts respecting recidivism to 7 guide the exercise of her sentencing discretion. The 8 petitions are therefore denied. 9 10 Conclusion 11 For the foregoing reasons, the order granting the writ 12 of habeas corpus to Petitioner-Appellee Portalatin is 13 REVERSED. The orders denying the writ to Petitioner- 14 Appellants Morris and Phillips are AFFIRMED. The panel 15 opinion, 601 F.3d 163, is hereby VACATED. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Page 61 of 62
1 Appendix A. 2 New York Penal Law § 70.10: 3 1. Definition of persistent felony offender. 4 (a) A persistent felony offender is a person, other than a 5 persistent violent felony offender as defined in section 6 70.08, who stands convicted of a felony after having 7 previously been convicted of two or more felonies, as 8 provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this subdivision. 9 (b) A previous felony conviction within the meaning of 10 paragraph (a) of this subdivision is a conviction of a 11 felony in this state, or of a crime in 12 another jurisdiction, provided: 13 (i) that a sentence to a term of imprisonment in 14 excess of one year, or a sentence to death, was 15 imposed therefor; and 16 (ii) that the defendant was imprisoned under sentence 17 for such conviction prior to the commission of the 18 present felony; and 19 (iii) that the defendant was not pardoned on the 20 ground of innocence; and 21 (iv) that such conviction was for a felony offense 22 other than persistent sexual abuse, as defined in 23 section 130.53 of this chapter. 24 (c) For the purpose of determining whether a person has two 25 or more previous felony convictions, two or more convictions 26 of crimes that were committed prior to the time the 27 defendant was imprisoned under sentence for any of such 28 convictions shall be deemed to be only one conviction. 29 2. Authorized sentence. When the court has found, pursuant to the 30 provisions of the criminal procedure law, that a person is a 31 persistent felony offender, and when it is of the opinion that the 32 history and character of the defendant and the nature and 33 circumstances of his criminal conduct indicate that extended 34 incarceration and life-time supervision will best serve the public 35 interest, the court, in lieu of imposing the sentence of 36 imprisonment authorized . . . for the crime of which such person 37 presently stands convicted, may impose the sentence of 38 imprisonment authorized by that section for a class A-I felony. 39 In such event the reasons for the court's opinion shall be set 40 forth in the record.

Page 62 of 62
1 Portalatin v. Graham 2 07-1599 3 4 WINTER, Circuit Judge, with whom Judges Pooler and Sack concur, 5 6 dissenting: 7 8 I respectfully dissent. My dissent assumes familiarity with 9 the panel opinion, Besser v. Walsh, 601 F.3d 163 (2d Cir. 2010), 10 and will be limited to a response to Judge Wesley's opinion. 11 These appeals concern petitions for writs of habeas corpus 12 in which the petitioners challenge the constitutionality of what 13 actually happened in their sentencing proceedings. Petitioners 14 claim that the sentencing judges enhanced petitioners' sentences 15 beyond the standard maximum for their crimes of conviction based 16 on the sentencing judges' findings of facts that were not found 17 by a jury, admitted by petitioners, or sheltered by the Supreme 18 Court's decision in Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 19 224, 247 (1998), which held that the fact of prior conviction 20 need not be treated as an element of criminal offense. That some 21 kind of factfinding occurred with regard to each of the 22 petitioners has not been seriously questioned, and that extensive 23 factfinding occurred in one of the cases was expressly conceded 24 in the in banc oral argument by the Solicitor General of New

[End Page 1] 1 York. My colleagues rely heavily upon AEDPA deference1 but 2 identify only one constitutional argument dispositive of the 3 claims of all petitioners -- regarding the applicable maximum 4 sentences for Apprendi2 purposes -- and that one has been 5 specifically rejected by the Supreme Court in Cunningham v. 6 California, 549 U.S. 270 (2009) and Blakely v. Washington, 542 7 U.S. 296 (2004). Except for that discussion, my colleagues' 8 opinion never responds directly to petitioners' claims and 9 proffers no other identifiable constitutional theory to which 10 AEDPA deference can be given. Instead, it undertakes an abstract 11 discussion of New York Penal Law Section 70.10 and New York 12 Criminal Procedure Law Section 400.20, New York's Persistent 13 Felony Offender ("PFO") sentencing statute, that demonstrates 14 only that the PFO statute can be applied in a constitutional 15 manner. However, these appeals are not facial challenges to the 16 statute but rather to the manner in which the statute was 17 actually applied to each petitioner.3 [End Page 1]
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110

Stat. 1214. See Dolphy v. Mantello, 552 F.3d 236, 238 (2d. Cir. 2009) ("When the

state court has adjudicated the merits of the petitioner's claim, we apply the

deferential standard of review established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death

Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), under which we may grant a writ of habeas corpus only if

the state court's adjudication "˜was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable

application of, clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of

the United States.'" (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d))).[End Page 2]
Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000).
[End Page 3]
To dispel any doubt that the original panel had an accurate view of New York

law, I set out the details of the original panel's understanding of sentencing under

the PFO statute in Exhibit A to this opinion. To avoid any claim that I am misstating

the various steps or legal effects of PFO sentencing, the Appendix cites as support,

where pertinent, the PFO statute, People v. Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d 61 (N.Y. 2005), and the

majority opinion. [End Page 2] 1 The dissent will first discuss the sentencings of the three 2 remaining petitioners (five petitioners were involved in the 3 panel proceeding). It will then turn to the majority opinion 4 with regard to the four issues at stake in this proceeding, 5 giving full AEDPA deference to all relevant arguments: (i) what 6 are the maximum sentences applicable to petitioners for Apprendi 7 purposes; (ii) whether judicial factfinding altered the maximum 8 sentence applicable to each petitioner; (iii) if so, whether such 9 judicial factfinding was permissible under Almendarez-Torres; and 10 (iv) whether all of the judicial factfinding was permissible 11 because it involved traditional sentencing considerations. 12 a) The Petitioners' Sentencings 13 The sentencings of the three petitioners represent a fair 14 cross-section of the various issues at stake in this in banc.4 15 1) Phillips 16 Phillips' sentencing was the simplest. He was convicted of 17 a Class C felony, robbery in the second degree, carrying a 18 maximum sentence as a second felony offender of 15 years. N.Y. 19 Penal Law § 70.06(3)(b). Phillips had six prior felony 20 convictions: two burglaries in the third degree; grand larceny [End Page 4]
There is a difficulty in analyzing the various sentencing proceedings arising

from the emergence of the Almendarez-Torres issue at the in banc stage. None of the

sentencing courts believed it necessary to distinguish between facts relating to the

predicate PFO convictions that might be sheltered under Almendarez-Torres and other

facts relating to the character, history, and criminal conduct of the particular

defendant. The original panel remanded for an examination of harmless error claims.

Besser, 601 F.3d at 188-89. That remand would have included claims that some facts

might be sheltered under the Almendarez-Torres umbrella. [End Page 3] 1 in the fourth degree; attempted robbery in the second degree; 2 attempted robbery in the third degree; and attempted criminal 3 sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. The 4 sentencing court found: 5 Defendant has demonstrated time and again, 6 throughout his entire adult life, that he 7 cannot be trusted to function normally in 8 society and that he is unwilling and unable 9 to rehabilitate himself. The history and 10 character of defendant and the nature and 11 circumstances of his criminal conduct are 12 such that extended incarceration and lifetime 13 supervision are warranted to best serve the 14 public interest. CPL 400.20(1); PL 70.10. 15 16 This case arguably raises serious Almendarez-Torres issues. The 17 principal document in the record apparently is the prosecution's 18 PFO motion containing Phillips' legal history. The conclusory 19 statement of the sentencing court, while clearly a finding of 20 fact for Apprendi purposes,5 may have been limited to inferences 21 drawn solely from the predicate PFO convictions and felony of 22 conviction and arguably fall within an interpretation of 23 Almendarez-Torres entitled to AEDPA deference. The Almendarez- 24 Torres issue, if raised by the prosecutors, could have been 25 addressed by the district court pursuant to the original panel 26 remand. [End Page 5]
Conclusory statements such as these made by the sentencing court have been

treated by the Supreme Court as findings of fact. See Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 270, 277, 288-89 (2009) (treating sentencing judge's finding of "circumstances in

aggravation or mitigation of the crime" as findings of fact); Blakely v. Washington,

542 U.S. 296, 299, 303-04 (2004) (treating sentencing judge's finding of "substantial

and compelling reasons justifying an exceptional sentence" as findings of fact). [End Page 4] 1 2) Portalatin 2 Portalatin was convicted of second degree kidnapping and 3 first degree robbery, both Class B felonies carrying a maximum of 4 25 years as a second felony offender. N.Y. Penal Law § 5 70.06(3)(a). Portalatin's sentencing involved similar but 6 somewhat more extensive conclusions, including some facts outside 7 any reasonable interpretation of Almendarez-Torres. The 8 prosecution moved by letter for PFO sentencing based on two prior 9 felony convictions, attempted burglary in the second degree and 10 attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fifth 11 degree. The sentencing court also had before it the legal 12 history of Portalatin as well as a report prepared for the 13 defense that covered virtually all aspects of his life. The 14 court concluded: 15 [L]ooking back on the history of this 16 defendant, and having read these reports 17 . . . . [H]e began his criminal career in 18 1989, and we have beginning from that point 19 on, the failure to take advantage of 20 opportunities that might have provided drug 21 treatment, that might have in some way 22 assisted him. 23 We have bench warrants repeatedly. We 24 have parole revocations, and repeated parole 25 revocations to the extent that it's only when 26 these sentences maxed out that he finally is 27 released, and no sooner is he released than 28 there is a new crime. 29 . . . . 30 He certainly has earned a persistent 31 adjudication as I look at this Rap sheet and 32 the circumstances of this offense and other 33 offenses, and I'm going to adjudicate him a 34 persistent felony offender. [End Page 5] 1 2 Some of the facts found may be sheltered by an arguably 3 reasonable interpretation of Almendarez-Torres. However, missed 4 opportunities for drug treatment and the issuance of bench 5 warrants may not be facts relating to PFO convictions, although 6 reliance on them may well have been harmless. All these matters 7 could have been resolved on the original panel remand. 8 3) Morris 9 Morris's sentencing involved extensive factfinding. After 10 his conviction on 16 counts of criminal contempt for violating 11 orders prohibiting contact with his girlfriend, Class E felonies, 12 the prosecutor entered evidence of convictions for (i) attempted 13 robbery in the third degree; (ii) grand larceny in the fourth 14 degree and attempted criminal possession of a controlled 15 substance in the fifth degree (deemed in the aggregate to be one 16 conviction pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law Section 70.10(1)(c)); and 17 (iii) robbery in the third degree. This evidence qualified 18 Morris as a PFO. The pertinent choice in Morris's case was 19 between a Class E felony second offender sentence with a maximum 20 of 4 years and a Class A-I sentence with a maximum of life. N.Y. 21 Penal Law § 70.06(3)(d). 22 After an adjournment of the sentencing hearing to obtain a 23 psychiatric examination of Morris, the sentencing judge 24 considered the evidence. This consideration included, inter 25 alia, numerous documents such as the psychiatric evaluation, [End Page 6] 1 tapes of 911 calls from Morris's girlfriend or her neighbors, 2 evidence of numerous instances of obscene behavior on subways, 3 numerous instances of violence or assault on subways, 4 contemptuous behavior in court, contemptuous behavior toward a 5 female prison guard, and a negative report on Morris from the 6 Department of Probation. The defense evidence consisted largely 7 of his girlfriend's testimony as to his lack of violent behavior. 8 After hearing argument by counsel, the court concluded that 9 Morris should receive a Class A-I sentence. The court rendered 10 extensive written findings of fact formally labeled "Findings of 11 Fact." The court made a negative credibility finding with regard 12 to the girlfriend's testimony. The court credited the 13 prosecution's evidence described above and found that Morris 14 exhibited a propensity for violence, "a disturbing lack of self- 15 control and a pattern of abusive and contemptuous behavior, 16 particularly toward women." It concluded that the "People . . . 17 met their burden of establishing by a preponderance of the 18 evidence that a sentence [as a Class A-I felon] is warranted." 19 The sentencing was upheld on appeal. 20 The record of Morris's sentencing indicates consideration by 21 the court of many actions and characteristics of Morris, and 22 conflicting testimony, that are not related to or inferences 23 drawn from his prior felonies or felony of conviction. The 24 record also indicates that the sentencing judge engaged in what [End Page 7] 1 he deemed to be factfinding to choose between the second offender 2 Class E felony sentence with a four year maximum, and a Class A-I 3 sentence with a minimum of 15 years and maximum of life. 4 b) The Majority Opinion 5 Blakely/Cunningham prohibit a sentencing court from finding 6 facts that were not found by a jury, admitted by a defendant, or 7 sheltered by Almendarez-Torres, where such facts are relied upon 8 to elevate the otherwise applicable maximum sentencing range to 9 one with a higher maximum. Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 10 270, 282-83 (2007); Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 303-04 11 (2004). Each petitioner argues that his sentencing involved such 12 factfinding and altering of the otherwise applicable maximum 13 sentence. 14 My colleagues argue that: (i) the maximum sentence 15 applicable to all petitioners was, for Apprendi purposes, life; 16 (ii) once two prior felony convictions are shown, the "second 17 step" need not involve dispositive factfinding; (iii) a 18 reasonable interpretation of Almendarez-Torres, if AEDPA 19 deference is shown, allows the sentencing court to find facts 20 relating to the predicate felonies sufficient to impose a Class 21 A-I sentence; and (iv) nothing occurs under the PFO statute that 22 is not recognized as discretionary sentencing using traditional 23 factors. I deal with each argument seriatim. 24 1) Giving All Due AEDPA Deference, What is the Apprendi [End Page 8] 1 Maximum for Each Petitioner? 2 My colleagues join the New York Court of Appeals in 3 reasoning that because life imprisonment is the highest sentence 4 to which a defendant is exposed under the PFO statute, life 5 imprisonment is the maximum sentence for Apprendi purposes.6 If 6 my colleagues are correct that life imprisonment is the maximum 7 sentence to which the petitioners were subject for Apprendi 8 purposes, then I would agree that the petitions must be denied. 9 But I do not agree. 10 As my colleagues' own description of Blakely indicates,7 11 precisely the same argument was made in Blakely and rejected by 12 the Supreme Court, which stated: 13 The State nevertheless contends that there 14 was no Apprendi violation because the 15 relevant "statutory maximum" is not 53 16 months, but the 10-year maximum for class B 17 felonies in § 9A.20.021(1)(b). It observes 18 that no exceptional sentence may exceed that 19 limit. See § 9.94A.420. Our precedents make 20 clear, however, that the "statutory maximum" 21 for Apprendi purposes is the maximum sentence [End Page 6]
My colleagues' opinion states: "[U]nder the New York Court of Appeals'

construction, the Apprendi maximum for each petitioner was fixed at that of a class A-

I felony once the recidivism findings were established: an indeterminate sentence,

with a minimum term of between fifteen and twenty-five years, and a maximum term of

life in prison. Under Rivera, any facts that the sentencing judge considered beyond

those respecting recidivism do not implicate the Sixth Amendment, for they did not --

and could not -- lead to a sentence in excess of that Apprendi maximum." Maj. op. 54

(internal citation omitted).[End Page 7]
My colleagues quoted Blakely as saying that "the "˜statutory maximum' for

Apprendi purposes is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of

the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant." Maj. op. 29

(quoting Blakely, 542 U.S. at 303). They also observed that this ""˜statutory maximum'

may not necessarily coincide with the maximum penalty prescribed by the penal code."


[End Page 9] 1 a judge may impose solely on the basis of the 2 facts reflected in the jury verdict or 3 admitted by the defendant. 4 5 Blakely, 542 U.S. at 303. That the Court directly ruled on this 6 issue is underlined by Justice O'Connor's dissent. Id. at 318 7 ("Under the majority's approach, any fact that increases the 8 upper bound on a judge's sentencing discretion is an element of 9 the offense.") (O'Connor, J., dissenting). 10 Each petitioner concedes that he was "eligible for," 11 "subject to," etc., a Class A-I sentence solely because of his 12 prior multiple felonies. Each also argues that without the 13 findings of facts as to which the prosecution bore the burden of 14 proof and that were not found by the jury (discussed in the next 15 subsection), he had to be sentenced within a range carrying a 16 lower maximum. No party disputes the existence of a choice 17 between sentencing within a range with a lower maximum and 18 sentencing to a Class A-I term. Blakely is therefore directly 19 on point. 20 Cunningham reaffirmed Blakely in this respect. 549 U.S. at 21 288-89 (using Blakely's definition of the Apprendi maximum to 22 find California's sentencing scheme unconstitutional). 23 Cunningham, moreover, involved non-continuous sentences, as is 24 the case in Morris's petition. In that regard, the Cunningham 25 decision directly contradicts the statement in Footnote 12 of my 26 colleagues' opinion that the Supreme Court has never suggested [End Page 10] 1 that non-continuous schemes raise Sixth Amendment concerns. Maj. 2 op. 48. In the very heart of the Court's holding, it stated: 3 California's Legislature has adopted 4 sentencing triads, three fixed sentences with 5 no ranges between them. Cunningham's 6 sentencing judge had no discretion to select 7 a sentence within a range of 6 to 16 years. 8 His instruction was to select 12 years, 9 nothing less and nothing more, unless he 10 found facts allowing the imposition of a 11 sentence of 6 or 16 years. Factfinding to 12 elevate a sentence from 12 to 16 years, our 13 decisions make plain, falls within the 14 province of the jury employing a beyond-a- 15 reasonable-doubt standard, not the bailiwick 16 of a judge determining where the 17 preponderance of the evidence lies. 18 19 Cunningham, 549 U.S. at 292. 20 Similarly, in Morris's case, the sentencing judge had to 21 choose between two ranges: 1.5 to 4 years and 15 years to life 22 -- an eleven-year gap between the maximum in the lower range and 23 the minimum in the higher range. Cunningham is, therefore, also 24 directly on point. 25 The reasoning adopted by my colleagues with respect to 26 analyzing the maximum sentence for Apprendi purposes has thus 27 been expressly rejected by the Supreme Court, and AEDPA deference 28 is inapplicable. See Dolphy v. Mantello, 552 F.3d 236, 238 (2d 29 Cir. 2009) (AEDPA deference not applicable where state court's 30 adjudication was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable 31 application of, clearly established Federal law as determined by 32 the Supreme Court of the United States") (internal quotation [End Page 11] 1 marks omitted). The Apprendi maximum for each petitioner is the 2 maximum second felony offender sentence for their crime of 3 conviction. That maximum in each case is less than life 4 imprisonment. 5 2) Factfinding for Apprendi Purposes 6 Believing that the immediately preceding discussion 7 establishes that petitioners' PFO sentencing involved a choice 8 between sentencing ranges with different maximum sentences for 9 Apprendi purposes, I turn to the next question: whether in 10 petitioners' cases that choice was based on the sentencing 11 judges' findings of facts beyond those found by the jury in the 12 felony of conviction or admitted by the defendant. Whether the 13 findings are sheltered by Almendarez-Torres is dealt with in the 14 next subsection. 15 Conspicuously absent from my colleagues' opinion is any 16 clear denial that, in petitioners' cases, "step two" -- 17 consideration of evidence relating to the character, history, and 18 nature of the criminal conduct of the defendant -- involved 19 factfinding beyond the multiple prior felonies. 20 Instead the opinion is at pains to establish that, under the 21 PFO sentencing statute, two prior felonies alone "authorize"8 a 22 Class A-I sentence, that defendants are "eligible for"9 or [End Page 8]
Maj. op. 47, 50, 51.
[End Page 9]
Maj. op. 47.
[End Page 12] 1 "subject to"10 a Class A-I sentence based "solely"11 on two prior 2 felonies; that two prior felonies are the "sole determinant for 3 whether a judge is authorized to impose a PFO sentence";12 that 4 "no additional factfinding beyond the fact of two prior felony 5 convictions is required"13 to impose a PFO sentence; that two 6 prior felony convictions are "necessary and sufficient"14 to 7 impose the enhanced sentence; and that the second step findings 8 are not "necessary" for15 or "essential to"16 a recidivist 9 sentence. 10 None of the quoted phrases purport to be mandatory, i.e., 11 they do not state that two predicate felonies alone require a 12 Class A-I sentence. All that the phrases purport to state is 13 that the multiple predicate felonies alone: (i) trigger the PFO 14 sentencing process, (ii) expose the defendant to the possibility 15 of a Class A-I sentence, and (iii) may be sufficient in and of 16 themselves to justify such a sentence. However, none of that is 17 disputed, and none of that disposes of any of the appeals before 18 us. [End Page 10]
Maj. op. 10.
[End Page 11]
Maj. op. 38, 47, 51.
[End Page 12]
Maj. op. 47.
[End Page 13]
Maj. op. 47.
[End Page 14]
Maj. op. 37.
[End Page 15]
Maj. op. 48.
[End Page 16]
Maj. op. 49.
[End Page 13] 1 All of the petitioners assert colorable claims that their 2 Class A-I sentences were based on factfinding going beyond the 3 predicate felonies, without which a second felony offender 4 sentencing range with lower maximum sentences would concededly 5 have been applicable. To put it another way, my colleagues have 6 successfully defended the PFO statute against a facial attack by 7 showing that the predicate felonies may alone justify a Class A-I 8 sentence, while not addressing the claims before us that 9 factfinding beyond the predicate felonies actually occurred and 10 enhanced the sentences of the petitioners. 11 Without linking their discussion to any relevant and 12 identifiable constitutional theory, my colleagues also downplay 13 the importance of the second step, describing it as "procedural," 14 one that merely informs the exercise of sentencing discretion. 15 Maj. op. 51, 54. In fact, the Supreme Court has expressly held 16 that 17 broad discretion to decide what facts may support an 18 enhanced sentence, or to determine whether an enhanced 19 sentence is warranted in any particular case, does not 20 shield a sentencing system from the force of our 21 decisions. If the jury's verdict alone does not 22 authorize the sentence, if, instead, the judge must 23 find an additional fact to impose the longer term, the 24 Sixth Amendment requirement is not satisfied. 25 26 Cunningham, 549 U.S. at 290 (citing Blakely, 542 U.S. at 305 & 27 n.8). Regardless of whether the second step is labeled 28 "procedural" or whether it informs discretion, the second step in 29 the case of all petitioners involved which of two sentencing [End Page 14] 1 ranges was to be selected and the choice was between ranges with 2 different maximum sentences. 3 Conceding that facts beyond the felony convictions may be 4 considered in the second step,17 my colleagues also quote Rivera 5 to the effect that defendants do not have "a legal entitlement to 6 have those facts receive controlling weight in influencing the 7 court's opinion." Maj. op. 52 (quoting People v. Rivera, 5 8 N.Y.3d 61, 68 (N.Y. 2005)) (emphasis omitted). Of course, the 9 defendant has no "legal entitlement" to prevail at the second 10 step or to have his or her evidence given "controlling weight." 11 No petitioner is arguing that showing up at a sentencing 12 hearing and expressing remorse entitled him to sentencing as a 13 second felony offender as a matter of law. Each is arguing only 14 that judicial factfinding took place and unconstitutionally 15 guided the choice between the two legally available sentencing 16 ranges. 17 My colleagues make a final attempt to downplay the second 18 step. They describe the statutory requirement of a statement of 19 reasons by the sentencing judge for imposing a Class A-I range 20 sentence rather than a lower range sentence as intended only to 21 "facilitate[] an appellate review function that is distinct from [End Page 17]
My colleagues' opinion states: "[A]ny facts that the sentencing judge

considered beyond those respecting recidivism do not implicate the Sixth Amendment,

for they did not -- and could not -- lead to a sentence in excess of that Apprendi

maximum." Maj. op. 54. The Apprendi maximum issue is discussed supra. [End Page 15] 1 the issue of whether the PFO sentence was lawfully imposed."18 2 Maj. op. 40. That characterization is correct so far as 3 "lawfully imposed" means only that once two prior felonies have 4 been proven, a defendant is legally "eligible for," "subject to," 5 etc. a Class A-I sentence. It cannot mean more than that because 6 it is also conceded that an appellate court can overturn the 7 "lawfully imposed" sentence and resentence (or order 8 resentencing) to a legally available lower range. For example, 9 no one claims that a mistaken finding of fact relating to a 10 defendant's prior bad conduct on which a sentencing judge based a 11 Class A-I sentence could not be the ground for overturning on 12 appellate review a Class A-I sentence on appeal. If not, it can 13 hardly be said that no significant factfinding takes place in the 14 second step. 15 My colleagues' avoidance of a definitive answer to whether 16 factfinding beyond the predicate felonies may occur in the second 17 step or to whether it did occur in the case of any of the 18 petitioners, must be contrasted with the position taken by 19 appellate counsel for the prosecution and by the Rivera decision 20 itself. In the in banc oral argument, the New York Solicitor [End Page 18]
This is a peculiar basis for downplaying the significance of the second step,

given that this court frequently remands appeals on the ground that the sentencing

judge's statement of reasons is not sufficient to permit appellate review. See, e.g.,

United States v. Richardson, 521 F.3d 149, 159-60 (2d Cir. 2008); United States v.

DeMott, 513 F.3d 55, 58 (2d Cir. 2008); United States v. Hall, 499 F.3d 152, 156-57

(2d Cir. 2007). [End Page 16] 1 General conceded that facts were found in the sentencing 2 proceedings of the petitioners.19 Moreover, in Rivera, the New 3 York Court of Appeals used the words "fact" or "factfinding" 4 freely with regard to the second step. See e.g., Rivera, 5 5 N.Y.3d at 67-68 (referring repeatedly to the sentencing court's 6 consideration of "facts" found in the second step). The court 7 neither limited the inquiry to predicate crimes nor downplayed 8 the importance of the second step. The Court of Appeals 9 described that step as one in which "the sentencing court . . . 10 will consider holistically the defendant's entire circumstances 11 and character, including traits touching upon the need for 12 deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation unrelated to the crime 13 of conviction." Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 69 n.8. 14 With regard to the petitioners before us, the sentencing 15 judges showed no signs of viewing the second step as anything but 16 involving the consideration of evidence and the finding of facts. 17 As noted, in Morris's case, the sentencing judge made extensive 18 findings of fact and formally labeled them as such. See supra at 19 8. 20 Finally, the constitutional significance of the second step [End Page 19]
SG: The judge found that [Morris] was a persistent felony offender on
the two prior crimes and found quite a number of additional facts.
. . .
Court: With all three petitioners here, facts were found and were relied
upon in imposing the PFO sentence that went beyond any of the
convictions, isn't that right?
SG: I believe that is true, [although] I'm not as familiar with the
Portalatin facts.
[End Page 17] 1 is underscored by the statutory provision that "the burden of 2 proof is upon the people" in this phase. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 3 400.20(5). In the first step, the PFO predicate convictions must 4 be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. In the second step, 5 "[m]atters pertaining to the defendant's history and character 6 and the nature and circumstances of his criminal conduct" need be 7 proven only by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. All 8 relevant evidence must be considered and the ordinary rules of 9 evidence, save for those relating to privileges, do not apply. 10 Id. In Rivera's own words, "the People retain the burden to show 11 that the defendant deserves the [Class A-I] sentence." 5 N.Y.3d 12 at 68. My colleagues state that it is "not entirely clear" what 13 this statement means. Maj. op. 53. In fact, it is a routine 14 formulation pertinent to sentencing generally -- including the 15 federal system, see 18 U.S.C. § 3553 -- where a range of 16 sentences is permissible. It means what it says. If the 17 prosecution failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence 18 that one or more of the petitioners "deserve," a Class A-I 19 sentence, the petitioner would have been sentenced to a range 20 with a lower maximum. Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 68 21 In short, however characterized, the second step with regard 22 to the present petitioners involved the presentation of evidence 23 upon which the sentencing judge found facts and chose between 24 sentencing ranges with different maximum sentences. Nothing in [End Page 18] 1 my colleagues' opinion, save for the discussion of Almendarez- 2 Torres, responds to the claim of each petitioner that factfinding 3 altered the sentencing and applicable maximum range. 4 3) Giving Full AEDPA Deference, What is the Effect of 5 Almendarez-Torres? 6 The decision in Almendarez-Torres has played a minor role in 7 this litigation until now. None of the New York sentencing 8 courts in the present petitions mentioned it, much less attempted 9 to distinguish evidence or facts sheltered by Almendarez-Torres 10 from those not sheltered. In Rivera, the Court of Appeals 11 mentioned Almendarez-Torres only with regard to proving the 12 existence of prior convictions. 5 N.Y.3d at 67. Certainly the 13 original panel's remand would have allowed the district courts to 14 consider whether facts found by New York sentencing courts in 15 each of appellants' sentencing hearings were sheltered by 16 Almendarez-Torres. 17 My colleagues' discussion of Almendarez-Torres concerns in 18 part the breadth of that decision with regard to what facts are 19 sheltered by it. There are many variations here: e.g., (i) it 20 shelters only the existence of the fact of the prior convictions; 21 or (ii) it shelters only the existence of prior convictions and 22 matters proven to a jury or admitted by the defendant in 23 connection with the convictions; or (iii) it shelters the 24 existence of the convictions, matters proven or admitted, and [End Page 19] 1 matters relating to the convictions not proven to a jury or 2 admitted by the defendant; and (iv) inferences drawn from any of 3 the above. My colleagues give AEDPA deference to (iv). Maj. op. 4 56-57. 5 I will not quarrel with their conclusion because it is 6 largely irrelevant at this stage. Even if AEDPA deference were 7 shown to (iv), it disposes of none of the appeals before us, 8 except perhaps for Phillips, as to whom the failure to 9 rehabilitate may be an inference drawn solely from the predicate 10 convictions. In the other sentencing proceedings before us, 11 evidence was proffered and mentioned by the sentencing judges 12 that was not even arguably covered by Almendarez-Torres. While 13 consideration of Almendarez-Torres might identify some sheltered 14 facts and then lead to a conclusion that other findings were 15 harmless -- a difficult conclusion perhaps in Morris's case -- 16 the panel left that to the remand. 17 I must also note that my colleagues' discussion of 18 Almandarez-Torres implies that the PFO statute at the second step 19 limits consideration, or findings, of facts to matters sheltered 20 by that decision. Maj. op. 56 (addressing only the situation 21 where "a sentencing judge . . . consider[s] subsidiary facts 22 respecting a defendant's criminal history before imposing a PFO 23 sentence"). Again, they fail to address appellants' claims of 24 what actually happened at their sentencing hearings, where facts [End Page 20] 1 going beyond matters relating to the prior convictions were 2 allegedly found. 3 4) Giving Full AEDPA Deference, Is Factfinding Regarding 4 Traditional Sentencing Factors Free of Apprendi Restraints? 5 Reference has been made throughout these proceedings to the 6 fact that the second step and its factfinding involve the 7 consideration of traditional sentencing factors and is not unlike 8 the requirements of Section 3553(a).20 I agree but find the 9 point irrelevant. 10 Blakely/Cunningham radically altered the use of traditional 11 sentencing factors where findings of fact and conclusions 12 regarding traditional factors alter maximum sentences. Indeed, 13 each of those cases involved sentencing enhancements altering 14 maximum sentences based on generalized findings well within the 15 range of traditional factors -- "substantial and compelling 16 reasons justifying an exceptional sentence," Blakely, 542 U.S. at 17 299, and "circumstances in aggravation or mitigation of the 18 crime," Cunningham, 549 U.S. at 277 -- but were still held 19 unconstitutional. As for Section 3553(a), that provision is 20 certainly an expression of traditional factors, but it cannot be 21 used to alter maximum sentences. That is in fact what Booker was [End Page 20]
My colleagues state that "the step two inquiry under the PFO statute might

well be analogized to the judicial consideration of statutory factors that Congress

asks of district court judges in the federal system." Maj. op. 54 n.13. [End Page 21] 1 about.21 2 CONCLUSION 3 Except for the argument made with regard to maximum 4 sentences for Apprendi purposes, which has been specifically 5 rejected by the Supreme Court, nothing in my colleagues' opinion 6 identifies a constitutional argument that even arguably disposes 7 of Portalatin's and Morris's claims regarding factfindings 8 altering their maximum sentences. I therefore respectfully 9 dissent.

[End Page 21]
Some of the briefing has suggested that while the PFO statute as once applied

violated Blakely/Cunningham, Rivera altered its application in a way that renders it

constitutional. Whether the PFO procedures are now different is irrelevant with

regard to the present petitions because the petitioners claim that the procedure under

which they were sentenced was unconstitutional. See Liberta v. Kelly, 839 F.2d 77, 81

(2d Cir. 1988) (defendant could challenge the constitutionality of the criminal

statute under which he was convicted, even where the court affirmed his conviction by

excising prospectively the allegedly unconstitutional portions, because defendant had

been convicted under the unaltered statute). In any event, if New York's application

of the PFO statute has been altered, the alteration can be considered when cases

involving petitioners subject to the newly altered procedures arise. [End Page 22] 1 Exhibit A 2 3 Using a Class E felony as an example, the original panel's 4 view of the mechanics (what happens) of PFO sentencing is as 5 follows: 6 The defendant is convicted of a felony. 7 The maximum sentence for a first or second 8 felony offender is 4 years. N.Y. Penal Law 9 §§ 70.00(2)(e), 70.06(3)(e). After the 10 conviction, the prosecution enters into 11 evidence certified convictions or gets a 12 stipulation from the defense, sufficient to 13 prove beyond a reasonable doubt two or more 14 prior felony convictions of the defendant. 15 Maj. op. 8. 16 Because of the prior convictions, and 17 without more, the defendant has the status of 18 a persistent felony offender and is "eligible 19 for" or "subject to" a Class A-I felony 20 sentence of 15 years to life. See People v. 21 Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d 61, 66-67 (N.Y. 2005) 22 (citing N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10(1)(a)); Maj. 23 op. 10-11. The sentencing judge has, by 24 virtue of the prior felony convictions alone, 25 "authori[ty]" to impose a Class A-I sentence. 26 See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 66; Maj. op. 47. 27 The "authority" to impose a Class A-I 28 sentence is not absolute but is 29 circumscribed. Before a Class A-I sentence 30 may be imposed, the prosecution "retain[s] 31 the burden to show that the defendant 32 deserves the [Class A-I sentence]." Rivera, 33 5 N.Y.3d at 68; see also N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 34 § 400.20(5). The defendant may present 35 evidence at a hearing to influence the 36 sentencing court "to exercise its discretion 37 to hand down a sentence as if no recidivism 38 finding existed." Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 68; 39 see also N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1)); 40 Maj. op. 9-10, 52. 41 The sentencing judge has discretion to 42 impose a Class A-I sentence or a lesser 43 "authorized" sentence. See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d [End Page 23] 1 at 67; N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10(2); N.Y. Crim. 2 Proc. Law § 400.20(1). The exercise of this 3 discretion is guided by "factfinding" based 4 on the evidence adduced at the sentencing 5 hearing, including the prior felonies and the 6 felony of conviction. See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d 7 at 66-68; N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10(2); N.Y. 8 Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1)-(2); Maj. op. 52- 9 53. 10 The choice between a Class A-I sentence 11 and a lower sentence would, in the case of a 12 Class E felony, be a choice between: (i) a 13 Class A-I sentence with a range of a minimum 14 of 15 years to a maximum of life, and (ii) a 15 first or second felony offender sentence with 16 a maximum of 4 years. Compare N.Y. Penal Law 17 §§ 70.00(2)(e), 70.06(3)(e), with id. § 18 70.00(2)(a); see Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 68-69 19 n.7 (citing People v. Williams, 658 N.Y.S.2d 20 264, 265 (App. Div. 1997) (finding a Class 21 A-I sentence to be "an improvident exercise 22 of discretion" and ordering the resentencing 23 of the defendant "as a second felony 24 offender")); see also People v. Jennings, 822 25 N.Y.S.2d 501, 502 (App. Div. 2006) ("If the 26 sentencing court had not found defendant a 27 persistent felony offender, the maximum 28 sentence it could have imposed would have 29 been an indeterminate term of two to four 30 years . . . ."); Maj. op. 10 (discussing 31 possible sentences in the case of a Class D 32 felony). 33 The sentencing judge may reach a variety 34 of conclusions regarding the exercise of 35 discretion. The nature and number of the 36 prior felonies and the evidence leading to 37 the felony of conviction may themselves be 38 "sufficient" to justify the Class A-I 39 sentence. See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 70-71 40 ("If, for example, a defendant had an 41 especially long and disturbing history of 42 criminal convictions, a persistent felony 43 offender sentence might well be within the 44 trial justice's discretion even with no 45 further factual findings."). Or the prior 46 felony convictions and felony of conviction 47 along with other evidence may be sufficient 48 to justify a Class A-I felony sentence. See [End Page 24] 1 Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 67-69; N.Y. Penal Law § 2 70.10(2); N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1)- 3 (2). Or the evidence may be such that the 4 sentencing judge in his or her discretion 5 imposes a first or second felony offender 6 sentence. See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 67 ("If, 7 based on all it heard, the court's view of 8 the facts surrounding defendant's history and 9 character were different, the court might 10 well have exercised its discretion to impose 11 a less severe sentence."); N.Y. Penal Law § 12 70.10(2); N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 400.20(1). 13 Imposition of a Class A-I persistent 14 felony offender sentence rather than a first 15 or second felony offender sentence is subject 16 to appellate review under a deferential 17 standard. See Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 68 18 ("[O]nce a defendant is adjudged a persistent 19 felony offender, a recidivism sentence cannot 20 be held erroneous as a matter of law, unless 21 the sentencing court acts arbitrarily or 22 irrationally. The court's opinion is, of 23 course, subject to appellate review, as is 24 any exercise of discretion."). If an 25 appellate court vacates the Class A-I 26 sentence, it must substitute a first or 27 second felony offender sentence with a 28 maximum of 4 years in the case of a Class E 29 felony or remand for that purpose. See 30 Rivera, 5 N.Y.3d at 69 n.7 (citing Williams, 31 658 N.Y.S.2d at 265 (finding a Class A-I 32 sentence to be "an improvident exercise of 33 discretion" and ordering the resentencing of 34 the defendant "as a second felony offender"); 35 N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 470.20; see also 36 People v. LaSalle, 95 N.Y.2d 827, 829, 734 37 N.E.2d 749, 750 (2000) (memorandum decision); 38 Jennings, 822 N.Y.S.2d at 502 (finding that 39 "if the sentencing court had not found 40 defendant a persistent felony offender, the 41 maximum sentence it could have imposed would 42 have been an indeterminate term of two to 43 four years").

[End Page 25]

Space Space


This case has been viewed 302 times.

No comments have been added yet. Sign in to post a comment.
Issues Laws Cases Pro Articles Firms Entities
Issues Laws Cases Pro Articles Firms Entities
Sign Up
Need Password Help?