People v. Lopez

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtKaye
Citation844 N.E.2d 1145,6 N.Y.3d 248
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Sandro LOPEZ, Appellant. The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Yolanda Billingslea, Appellant. The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Winston Nicholson, Appellant.
Decision Date16 February 2006
844 N.E.2d 1145
6 N.Y.3d 248
The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
v.
Sandro LOPEZ, Appellant.
The People of the State of New York, Respondent,
v.
Yolanda Billingslea, Appellant.
The People of the State of New York, Respondent,
v.
Winston Nicholson, Appellant.
Court of Appeals of New York.
February 16, 2006.

Page 1146

Center for Appellate Litigation, New York City (David J. Klem and Robert S. Dean of counsel), for appellant in the first above-entitled action.

Robert T. Johnson, District Attorney, Bronx (Jonathan Zucker and Joseph N. Ferdenzi of counsel), for respondent in the first above-entitled action.

Lynn W.L. Fahey, New York City, for appellant in the second above-entitled action.

Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney, Brooklyn (Joyce Slevin and Leonard Joblove of counsel), for respondent in the second above-entitled action.

Center for Appellate Litigation, New York City (Robert S. Dean of counsel), for appellant in the third above-entitled action.

Robert T. Johnson, District Attorney, Bronx (Jennifer Marinaccio and Joseph N. Ferdenzi of counsel), for respondent in the third above-entitled action.

Legal Aid Society of New York, Criminal Appeals Bureau, New York City (Steven Banks and Laura R. Johnson of counsel), amicus curiae in the third above-entitled action.

Richard A. Brown, District Attorney, Kew Gardens (Gary S. Fidel and John M. Castellano of counsel), amicus curiae in the third above-entitled action.

Page 1147

OPINION OF THE COURT

KAYE, Chief Judge.


Can a criminal defendant who has validly waived the right to appeal nonetheless ask the Appellate Division to exercise its interest-of-justice jurisdiction to reduce a sentence? We answer that question in the negative, though in so doing we underscore the critical nature of a court's colloquy with a defendant explaining the right relinquished by an appeal waiver.

People v. Lopez

Following arrest and indictment for possession and sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds, defendant Lopez pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. In exchange for this plea, the court promised to impose a sentence of imprisonment of 2½ to 5 years. At the time of the plea, defendant waived his right to appeal on the record, both verbally and in writing. Despite this waiver, on January 14, 2004, defendant, acting pro se, filed a timely notice of appeal, noting only that he would appeal the "conviction and/or sentence." After appointment by the Appellate Division, appellate counsel argued that the Court should reduce defendant's sentence in the interest of justice despite his waiver of the right to appeal.

The Appellate Division affirmed with respect to defendant's sentence, holding that "[d]efendant's valid waiver of his right to appeal encompassed his excessive sentence claim and thus forecloses interest of justice review. In any event, were we to find that defendant did not validly waive his right to appeal, we would perceive no basis for reducing the sentence" (16 A.D.3d 258, 258, 791 N.Y.S.2d 111 [1st Dept.2005] [citation omitted]). On defendant's appeal of the excessive sentence issue, we now affirm the Appellate Division's conclusion.

People v. Billingslea

Defendant Billingslea, after suffering a psychotic episode, repeatedly stabbed both her best friend and her seven-year-old daughter, killing the child. Indicted for three counts of murder in the second degree and one count of attempted murder in the second degree — along with lesser crimes — defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree in satisfaction of all charges and was sentenced to the agreed-upon prison term of 15 years.

During the plea allocution, the court asked defendant a series of questions concerning facts surrounding the homicide and whether she understood that by pleading guilty she was giving up the rights attendant to a criminal trial. After defendant responded "Yes," the court then said to her, "And last, if you went to trial and were convicted, you would have what is known as the right of appeal. That means that a group of judges would review everything done in this case to make sure your rights have been protected, but when you plead guilty you waive your right of appeal." Defendant again replied "Yes" when asked if she understood.

After defendant filed an appeal requesting a reduction of her sentence in the interest of justice, the Appellate Division affirmed her conviction and sentence stating, "The record demonstrates that the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived her right to appeal, which included any challenge to her sentence, which was imposed pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement" (16 A.D.3d 516, 516, 792 N.Y.S.2d 110 [2d Dept.2005]). Concluding that defendant's waiver was not adequately informed, we now reverse and remit to the Appellate Division to consider defendant's excessive sentence claim.

People v. Nicholson

Defendant Nicholson was charged with attempted murder in the second degree as

Page 1148

well as five related charges arising out of a 1999 knife fight with a rival gang member. In exchange for a promised prison sentence of eight years, defendant pleaded guilty. As part of his plea colloquy, and following an explanation of the trial rights forfeited by virtue of a guilty plea, the court said to defendant, "You also understand you're giving up your right to appeal, that is, to take to a higher court than this one any of the legal issues connected with this case? You understand that?" Defendant answered "Yes." One month later, prior to sentencing, the court reiterated, "[d]efendant is waiving his right to appeal in this matter." Defendant raised no objection to that statement. Both the court and the court clerk noted in the record that defendant waived his right to appeal. Like defendant Billingslea, Nicholson did not execute a written appeal waiver.

On his appeal to the Appellate Division, defendant argued that the appeal waiver, as explained to him, was invalid and that, even if the waiver was valid, the Appellate Division maintained its interest-of-justice authority to review what he believed was an excessive sentence. The Appellate Division concluded that the "valid waiver of [defendant's] right to appeal encompassed his present claim that his agreed-upon sentence is excessive and forecloses interest of justice review of that claim. In any event, were we to find that review was not precluded, we would perceive no basis for reducing the sentence" (15 A.D.3d 237, 237-238, 789 N.Y.S.2d 153 [1st Dept.2005] [citations omitted]). We agree that the waiver was valid and therefore affirm.

I.

A defendant's valid waiver of the right to appeal includes waiver of the right to invoke the Appellate Division's interest-of-justice jurisdiction to reduce the sentence.*

In People v. Seaberg, 74 N.Y.2d 1, 10, 543 N.Y.S.2d 968, 541 N.E.2d 1022 [1989] this Court recognized the enforceability of guilty pleas conditioned on a defendant's waiver of the right to appeal. While certain claims remain outside the ambit of a valid appeal waiver — for example, legality of a sentence (see People v. Callahan, 80 N.Y.2d 273, 280, 590 N.Y.S.2d 46, 604 N.E.2d 108 [1992]), challenge to a defendant's competency (see Seaberg, 74 N.Y.2d at 9, 543 N.Y.S.2d 968, 541 N.E.2d 1022) and a constitutional speedy trial claim (see id.; see also People v. Campbell, 97 N.Y.2d 532, 535, 743 N.Y.S.2d 396, 769 N.E.2d 1288 [2002]) — generally, an appeal waiver will encompass any issue that does not involve a right of constitutional dimension going to "the very heart of the process" (People v. Hansen, 95 N.Y.2d 227, 230, 715 N.Y.S.2d 369, 738 N.E.2d 773 [2000]). Indeed, an appeal waiver made as a condition of a plea arrangement facilitates the desirable objective of prompt, effective resolution of criminal litigation.

By waiving the right to appeal in connection with a negotiated plea and sentence, a defendant agrees to end the proceedings entirely at the time of sentencing and to accept as reasonable the sentence imposed. While the Appellate Division may be divested of its unique interest-of-justice jurisdiction only by constitutional amendment (see People v. Pollenz, 67 N.Y.2d 264, 267-268, 502 N.Y.S.2d 417, 493 N.E.2d 541 [1986]), a defendant is free to relinquish the right to invoke that authority and indeed does so by validly waiving the right to appeal.

Page 1149

A defendant may not subsequently eviscerate that bargain by asking an appellate court to reduce the sentence in the interest of justice — realistically an issue that as a practical matter is brought to an appellate court's attention only when raised by defendants. The important goals of fairness and finality in criminal matters are accomplished only insofar as the parties are confident that the "`carefully orchestrated bargain'" of an agreed-upon sentence will not be disturbed as a discretionary matter (Seaberg, 74 N.Y.2d at 10, 543 N.Y.S.2d 968, 541 N.E.2d 1022, quoting People v. Prescott, 66 N.Y.2d 216, 220, 495 N.Y.S.2d 955, 486 N.E.2d 813 [1985]).

We therefore conclude that when a defendant enters into a guilty plea that includes a valid waiver of the right to appeal, that waiver includes any challenge to the severity of the sentence. By pleading guilty and waiving the right to appeal, a defendant has forgone review of the terms of the plea, including harshness or excessiveness of the sentence.

II.

Because only a few reviewable issues survive a valid appeal waiver, it is all the more important for trial courts to ensure that defendants understand what they are surrendering when they waive the right to appeal. Giving up the right to appeal is not a perfunctory step.

A waiver of the right to appeal is effective only so long as the record demonstrates that it was made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily (see People v. Calvi, 89 N.Y.2d 868, 871, 653 N.Y.S.2d 89, 675 N.E.2d 843 [1996]). And though a trial court need not engage in any particular litany when apprising a...

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2445 practice notes
  • People v. Sanders
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • December 11, 2013
    ...In order to be enforceable, a waiver of the right to appeal must be made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently ( see People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 255, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145; People v. Seaberg, 74 N.Y.2d 1, 10, 543 N.Y.S.2d 968, 541 N.E.2d 1022). In determining whether a wa......
  • People v. Wiggins
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • October 6, 2016
    ...a valid waiver of his right to appeal (see People v. Sanders, 25 N.Y.3d 337, 341, 12 N.Y.S.3d 593, 34 N.E.3d 344 [2015] ; People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256–257, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 [2006] ), which forecloses review of his excessive sentence claim. Regardless of whether defend......
  • People v. Thomas, No. 87, No. 88, No. 89
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • November 26, 2019
    ...938 N.Y.S.2d 254, 961 N.E.2d 645 [2011] ; People v. Ramos, 7 N.Y.3d 737, 738, 819 N.Y.S.2d 853, 853 N.E.2d 222 [2006] ; People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 [2006] ). The role played by counsel in ensuring a defendant's knowing and voluntary waiver is an imp......
  • People v. Brown,
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • September 10, 2014
    ...waived his right to appeal, which waiver, if valid, would bar review of his claim that his sentence was excessive (see People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 ). As the Court of Appeals has observed, "an appeal waiver made as a condition of a plea arrangement f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2441 cases
  • People v. Sanders
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • December 11, 2013
    ...In order to be enforceable, a waiver of the right to appeal must be made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently ( see People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 255, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145; People v. Seaberg, 74 N.Y.2d 1, 10, 543 N.Y.S.2d 968, 541 N.E.2d 1022). In determining whether a wa......
  • People v. Wiggins
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • October 6, 2016
    ...a valid waiver of his right to appeal (see People v. Sanders, 25 N.Y.3d 337, 341, 12 N.Y.S.3d 593, 34 N.E.3d 344 [2015] ; People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256–257, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 [2006] ), which forecloses review of his excessive sentence claim. Regardless of whether defend......
  • People v. Thomas, No. 87, No. 88, No. 89
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • November 26, 2019
    ...938 N.Y.S.2d 254, 961 N.E.2d 645 [2011] ; People v. Ramos, 7 N.Y.3d 737, 738, 819 N.Y.S.2d 853, 853 N.E.2d 222 [2006] ; People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 [2006] ). The role played by counsel in ensuring a defendant's knowing and voluntary waiver is an imp......
  • People v. Brown,
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • September 10, 2014
    ...waived his right to appeal, which waiver, if valid, would bar review of his claim that his sentence was excessive (see People v. Lopez, 6 N.Y.3d 248, 256, 811 N.Y.S.2d 623, 844 N.E.2d 1145 ). As the Court of Appeals has observed, "an appeal waiver made as a condition of a plea arrangement f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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