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April 12, 2024

New study highlights appellate reversals of excessive sentences in New York

This lengthy Law360 article, headlined "Study Shines Light On Excessive NY Prison Sentences," reports on an interesting recent student about sentencing reversals in New York.  Here are excerpts:

A recent report shining a light on excessive felony prison sentences handed down by more than 140 trial judges in New York over a 16-year period has experts and advocacy groups calling for increased transparency to help ensure that courts are imposing fair penalties on criminal defendants in the Empire State.

The study by judicial accountability nonprofit Scrutinize, in partnership with the New York University School of Law's Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, found that at least 140 trial judges in the state imposed prison sentences that were later deemed excessive on intermediary criminal appeal.  Of those, 65 judges saw sentencing decisions overturned on more than one occasion.  The 12 judges with five or more excessive sentence findings, meanwhile, had their sentences reduced by a total of 1,246 years.

The organizations urged the state judiciary to release sentencing data for individual judges that are currently not public, information they said could reveal patterns of oversentencing, and to publish an annual report summarizing excessive sentence findings to keep track of those trends....

According to the study, which looked at cases originating from the five counties of New York City and Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Dutchess, and Putnam counties, two judges, Edward J. McLaughlin and Vincent Del Giudice, had a total of 39 excessive sentence findings combined, with the appellate court cutting a total of 684.5 years from the sentences they imposed. Justice McLaughlin, who presided over criminal matters in Manhattan, is now retired. Justice Del Giudice still hears criminal cases in Brooklyn.

According to the report, between 2014 and 2022, an average of 19,930 felony cases each year ended with a conviction after a guilty plea or a jury trial verdict.  In 2022, felony dispositions were nearly 15,800, but there were only about 1,100 appeals filed.  And, as acknowledged by the report's authors themselves, only a fraction — about 4% — of felony sentences are reduced for excessiveness on appeal.  That means that looking at overruled sentences provides an incomplete picture of judges' carceral attitudes.

The full study, which is titled "Excessive Sentencers: Using Appellate Decisions to Enhance Judicial Transparency," is available at this link. Here is its executive summary:

Increased focus on state judiciaries has significant potential to improve the criminal legal system.  Recognizing the need for evaluation metrics for judges, this report pioneers a data-driven, evidence-based approach to assessing the judiciary.  We analyze written appellate decisions to quantify individual trial court judges' decisions and impacts.  This methodology transforms complex judicial texts into accessible data, creating metrics of judicial performance for use by policymakers and the public.

This report introduces ‘excessive sentence findings’ as a method to assess individual judges’ decisions and their impact.  In New York, appellate courts review sentences for excessiveness and can reduce them in the “interest of justice,” a rare and clear signal — from highly-respected institutional actors — that a lower court judge made an exceptionally troubling choice.  We identify lower court judges with sentences reduced by appellate courts for being excessive and calculate the total number of years reduced from those sentences.

The study reveals patterns of repeated excessive sentencing by a number of specific judges, raising questions about judicial accountability in New York.

April 12, 2024 at 12:19 AM | Permalink


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