People v. Laboriel


Issue Presented: Whether Mr. Laboriel’s plea was rendered involuntary by the prosecution’s failure to keep up its end of the bargain as Mr. Laboriel was not released upon his completion of his custodial sentence and was instead detained in an RTF?

Held: Mr. Laboriel’s conviction and sentence should be affirmed. His challenge to the voluntariness of his plea was not properly raised in an excessive sentence appeal. Because his sentence was not illegal, it was not subject to the Court of Appeals’ review (regardless of arguments made by two dissenting Justices).

Discussion: In this 5 to 2 memorandum decision, the Court of Appeals, like the Second Department, summarily refused to engage in any analysis of the substantive claim raised by Mr. Laboriel. Treating the case as simply an appeal from Mr. Laboriel’s sentence, the majority held that it was without jurisdiction to review the voluntariness of his plea. The precise contours of his arguments are only evident from the lengthy dissent penned by Justice Rivera (and joined by Justice Wilson who had granted Mr. Laboriel leave).

As the dissent explains, Mr. Laboriel entered a guilty plea based on a promise of three years’ incarceration to be followed by five years’ post-release supervision. He served the entirety of his custodial sentence. Rather than being released, as dictated by the sentencing promise, Mr. Laboriel was further detained in a “residential treatment facility” for an additional nine months because he lacked housing compliant with the requirements of the Sexual Assault Reform Act (“SARA”). SARA requires certain supervisees to abide by a condition prohibiting them from entering (or, as the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) interprets it, residing) within 1,000 feet of school grounds. Without SARA compliant housing, DOCCS will indefinitely detain an individual in a “residential treatment facility” until housing is available, a practice sanctioned by the Court of Appeals in a series of decisions in 2020. See People ex rel. Johnson v. Superintendent, Adirondack Corr. Facility, 36 N.Y.3d 187 (2020); People ex rel. McCurdy v. Warden, Westchester County Corr. Facility, 36 N.Y.3d 251 (2020).

The dissenting Justices, who had also dissented in direct challenges to DOCCS’ policy of indefinite detention, concluded that Mr. Laboriel’s continued incarceration rendered his sentence unlawful. Mr. Laboriel was “involuntarily denied his liberty beyond the carceral period agreed to by the parties and imposed by the court.” That illegality entitled Mr. Laboriel to relief and enabled the Court of Appeals to entertain the appeal. The dissent found the majority’s unwillingness to hold the prosecution to its end of the bargain particularly troubling.

CAL Observes: This case represents a novel challenge to the harsh consequences of SARA and its implementation by DOCCS. Given that the majority based its determination primarily on procedural and jurisdictional grounds, there may be opportunities to revisit the issue in a better positioned case. That said, as the same majority has repeatedly refused to grapple with the inherent unfairness of the continued detention of individuals based, essentially, on their poverty, it is more likely that the Court will continue its trend of closing its eyes and ears to the injustices its own inaction perpetuates. As is plain from the dissent’s many citations to prior dissents by the same two Justices, the Court as it is currently comprised is uninterested in providing any form of relief to a population for which it lacks any sympathy.