People v. William Middlebrooks


AD4 order dated May 2, 2014, affirming judgement of conviction. Decision below: 117 AD3d 1445, 985 NYS2d 365. Graffeo, J., granted leave June 25, 2014. Argued May 6, 2015.
ISSUE PRESENTED: Whether, under People v. Rudolph, 21 NY3d 497(2013), a sentencing court is required to determine if a defendant convicted of an “armed felony” is eligible for YO status pursuant to PL §720.10(3). (Assigned counsel: David C. Schopp, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc., 237 Main Street, Suite 1602, Buffalo, NY 14203.)

Issue before the Court: Whether a sentencing court must sua sponte considered a juvenile who has previously been convicted of an “armed felony” for youthful offender treatment under C.P.L. § 720.10 and People v. Rudolph, 21 N.Y.3d 497 (2013)?


Holding: Yes, writes Judge Fahey, over Judge Stein’s dissent, which was joined by Judges Read and Pigott.  Even a youth with an armed felony is eligible for youthful offender treatment (so long as mitigating circumstances), so that the Rudolph-rule requiring YO consideration and adjudication applies.


Notably, despite the view of the dissent on the main issue, the three dissenters in Middlebrooks’ case would still have vacated Lowe’s sentence because the sentencing court abused its discretion in denying defense counsel’s request to adjourn sentencing to draft a presentence memorandum (an issue not reached by the majority).


CAL observes:  We knew this.  In People v. Flores, 116 A.D.3d 644 (1st Dep’t 2014), the First Department split with the Third Department (see People v. Woullard, 115 A.D.3d 1053 (3d Dep’t 2014)), and said that under C.P.L. § 720.10 a defendant is an eligible youth despite a prior armed felony conviction if the court determined that there are mitigating circumstances bearing directly upon the crime or if the defendant’s role was relatively minor.  Under Rudolph, all eligible youth must be considered for youthful offender treatment by the court at sentencing – a statement by the court at the time of the plea is insufficient, see People v. Eley, 127 A.D.3d 583 (1st Dep’t 2015).


The secondary issue in Lowe, which was reached only by the dissenters in Middlebrooks, may finally (hopefully?) reflect the exasperation of the Court with the lack of attention paid to sentencing proceedings in the State.  Lowe’s attorney sought an adjournment of sentencing (which had been moved up two weeks by the court) in order to prepare and submit a presentencing memorandum.  Counsel explained that the report would provide reasons why Lowe should either be granted youthful offender treatment or be given the minimum adult sentence.  The court inexplicably refused and did not address Lowe’s request for youthful offender treatment.  Too often sentencing is treated as a necessary, but insignificant step merely to be gotten through.  Hopefully, this opinion will lead to greater recognition of the important role that defense counsel plays in that critical stage and encourage the filing of presentencing memorandums in cases where the sentence is potentially at issue.