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New York Court’s Probation-Due-to-AIDS Compassionate Sentence Reversed

New York Court's Probation-Due-to-AIDS Compassionate Sentence Reversed

On October 4, 1991, a New York appellate court reversed the compassionate sentence of probation given to a prisoner infected with HIV and just before the onset of AIDS.
Sandra Clark, a New York defendant, agreed to plead guilty to two felony indictments conditioned on the County Court sentencing her to probation and ignoring the fact that she had prior felonies which would require the court to sentence her to a minimum of 2 to 4 years in prison. Because she is a single mother of an infant, is HIV positive and in the final stages before the onset of AIDS, the trial court agreed and sentenced her to probation in the interest of justice. The trial court also ruled that imposing the statutory minimum sentence on Clark would be cruel and unusual punishment in her case. The state appealed.

The appellate court held that the County Court the authority to impose a sentence less than the mandatory statutory minimum, even if it determined that justice required the lesser sentence. It also held that the imposition of the statutory minimum sentence would not be cruel and unusual punishment as Clark had not proven that she would be unable to obtain proper medical care in prison, having presented only hearsay and. conjecture on the issue. Therefore, this was not one of those rare cases in which the imposition of a legal sentence was constitutionally prohibited. The case was returned to the County Court to allow Clark to withdraw her guilty plea, or accept resentencing under the minimum sentencing statutes. See: New York v. Clark, 176 A.D.2d 1206; 576 N.Y.S.2d 704 (1991).

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Related legal case

New York v. Clark


Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

176 A.D.2d 1206; 576 N.Y.S.2d 704; 1991 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13872

October 4, 1991, Filed


Appeals from Judgment of Monroe County Court, Maloy, J. - Forgery, 2nd Degree.


[*1206] [**704] Judgment unanimously modified on the law and as modified affirmed and matter remitted to Monroe County Court for further proceedings, in accordance with the following Memorandum: Defendant entered a plea of guilty to felony charges contained in two indictments on the condition that County Court disregard her status as a predicate felon and sentence her to a term of probation rather than impose a mandatory period of incarceration. County Court imposed probation in the interest of justice and on the ground that imposition of the mandatory [**705] statutory minimum sentence of 2 to 4 years would constitute cruel and unusual punishment because defendant, the single mother of two infant children, was HIV-positive and in the final stage before the onset of AIDS.

Neither County Court nor this Court possesses interest of [*1207] justice jurisdiction to impose a sentence less than the mandatory statutory minimum (see, People v Hooks, 96 AD2d 1001, 1003); [***2] therefore, the sentence of probation cannot be upheld on that ground.

We further disagree with County Court's conclusion that the imposition of this statutorily-mandated sentence would be unconstitutional as applied to defendant. A sentence that is within the statutory limits is not a cruel and unusual punishment in the constitutional sense ( People v Jones, 39 NY2d 694, 697), and this is not one of those rare cases where the imposition of a legal sentence is constitutionally prohibited (see, People v Broadie, 37 NY2d 100, 119, cert denied 423 US 950; People v Castano, 99 AD2d 738, 739; People v Mansell, 79 AD2d 582). The fact that defendant is HIV-positive or suffers from AIDS is not a sufficient reason to modify an otherwise lawful sentence of imprisonment (see, People v Bonaventura, 168 AD2d 626; People v Howard, 164 AD2d 895, lv denied 76 NY2d 940; People v Watts, 162 AD2d 567, lv denied 76 NY2d 867; People v Chrzanowski, 147 AD2d 652, lv denied 74 NY2d 662; People v Ford, 143 AD2d 841, lv denied 75 NY2d 921; People v Brandow, 139 AD2d 819, lv denied 72 NY2d 856; People v Napolitano, 138 AD2d 414; People v Escobales, 146 Misc [***3] 2d 573). Moreover, defendant did not prove that she would be unable to obtain proper medical treatment if incarcerated, but presented only hearsay and conjecture on that question.

Because defendant's plea of guilty was specifically conditioned upon the imposition of her sentence of probation, defendant must be given the opportunity to withdraw her plea. If defendant chooses not to withdraw her plea, the matter must be remitted for resentencing in accordance with the mandatory sentencing statutes.

We have examined the issue raised by defendant on her appeal and find it to be without merit.