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June 9, 2005

Three observations on Rivera

After having a chance to read closely the majority opinion of the New York Court of Appeals in Rivera, which upholds the constitutionality of the state's persistent felony offender statutes (basics here), three big thoughts rush to mind:

1.  The decision seems cert. proof: Because the Rivera court based its ruling on a particular (though debatable) interpretation of the state's statutes, I think it would be unlikely that the Supreme Court would have much interest in giving the decision a second look. 

2.  What about state constitutional law?: The New York State Constitution in Article I, sec. 2 says: "Trial by jury in all cases in which it has heretofore been guaranteed by constitutional provision shall remain inviolate forever."  Perhaps the defendant in Rivera did not also bring a state constitutional law claim (or perhaps such a claim has been resolved in earlier decision).  Nevertheless, as I suggested in this post a few month ago, I think state constitutional law claims can and should play a larger role in the post-Blakely universe.

3.  The continuing importance of the "prior conviction" exception: A critical component of the Rivera decision is the continued vitality of the Almendarez-Torres "prior conviction" exception.  If Justice Thomas gets his way and the exception gets undone by the Supreme Court, New York will certainly have to alter the operation of its persistent felony offender statutes.  Rivera is thus a good reminder that many states without significant Blakely problems may still end up with a significant Sixth Amendment mess if (when?) the Almendarez-Torres "prior conviction" exception is overruled.

UPDATE: The blog Indignant Indigent has posted an interesting take on the Rivera decision here, and the Second Circuit Blog adds a similar perspective in this post.

June 9, 2005 at 08:49 PM | Permalink

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