Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wrong. The Appellate Division, Third Department has disagreed with the Second Circuit on the constitutionality of New York's persistent felony offenders sentencing statute. In People v. Battease, the Third Department rejected the defendant's contention that his 20-years-to-life sentence was excessive and unconstitutional. The decision in that case can be found here. The Second Circuit, in Besser v. Walsh and other cases, has invalidated heavy sentences imposed under the statute because they were imposed by judges on persistent felony offenders and not by jurors, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Second Circuit's decision can be found here. The Third Department held that it was not bound by local federal circuit court rulings.

This raises an interesting issue. Assume that the New York State Court of Appeals hears this case and agrees with the Third Department. All state courts will be bound by this precedent. But then, if the case goes to federal habeas review, the federal courts will be bound by the Second Circuit decision. In questions of constitutional law, the Second Circuit would not be bound by the decision of the New York State Court of Appeals. So the two court systems would seem to be directly competing on this matter, with the federal system winning in the end. So was the Third Department correct in finding that it was not bound by the Second Circuit's interpretation of federal constitutional law?

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