Determinate And Indeterminate Sentences In New York
New York has two main types of felony sentences – determinate and indeterminate. The type of sentence depends on whether the felony is classified as violent or non-violent.
Determinate sentences, also called “flat” sentences, run for a specific period of time set by the judge, such as 5 or 10 years.
Determinate sentences generally apply to:
- Violent offenses
- Most sex offenses
- Drug offenses
Some examples of crimes with determinate sentences include:
- Robbery in the first degree (PL 160.15)
- Burglary in the first degree (PL 140.30)
- Criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (PL 265.03)
- Criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree (PL 220.43)
Length of Determinate Sentences
For violent felonies, the term of a determinate sentence is:
- Class B violent felony: At least 5 years up to 25 years
- Class C violent felony: At least 3.5 years up to 15 years
- Class D violent felony: At least 2 years up to 7 years
- Class E violent felony: At least 1.5 years up to 4 years
The judge sets a maximum term within these ranges. They must also impose a period of post-release supervision between 1.5-5 years.
Release on a Determinate Sentence
Individuals serving determinate sentences are released by law after serving their sentence, minus any merit time allowances. The Parole Board does not decide release dates.
After release, individuals must serve the period of post-release supervision set by the judge.
Indeterminate sentences provide a sentencing range set by statute, such as 1 to 3 years or 5 to 15 years.
Indeterminate sentences generally apply to non-violent felonies like:
- Grand larceny
- Possession of stolen property
- Criminal mischief
The ranges for indeterminate sentences are:
- Class A-I felony: Minimum 15-25 years, maximum life
- Class A-II felony: Minimum 3-8 1/3 years, maximum life
- Class B felony: Minimum 1-8 1/3 years, maximum 25 years
- Class C felony: Minimum 1-5 years, maximum 15 years
- Class D felony: Minimum 1-2 1/3 years, maximum 7 years
- Class E felony: Minimum 1-1 1/3 years, maximum 4 years
The minimum must be 1/3 of the maximum for non-predicate felons.
Release on an Indeterminate Sentence
After serving the minimum sentence, individuals can go before the Parole Board for discretionary release. If released, they serve parole until the maximum expiration of their sentence.
They may also be eligible for a conditional release after serving 2/3 of the maximum sentence if not already paroled.
Sentencing for Predicate Felons
Harsher sentences apply to predicate felons with prior convictions.
For second violent felony offenders, the minimum sentence is 1/2 the maximum, not 1/3.
Persistent felony offenders with 2 prior felonies face:
- Class A-I felony: Minimum 20-25 years, maximum life
- Class B felony: Minimum 15-25 years, maximum life
- Class C felony: Minimum 10-15 years, maximum life
- Class D felony: Minimum 6-7 years, maximum 15 years
- Class E felony: Minimum 3.5-4 years, maximum 7 years
Good Time Credits
Individuals serving indeterminate or determinate sentences may receive “good time” credits to reduce their sentence:
- Merit time: Up to 1/6 off the minimum for indeterminate sentences or 1/7 off determinate sentences for completing rehabilitation programs.
- Limited credit time: Up to 6 months off for completing programs and work assignments.
- Shock incarceration: Can reduce minimum period by up to 1 year.
- Conditional release: Automatic release after serving 2/3 of a maximum indeterminate sentence.
Parole and Post-Release Supervision
Whether released by the Parole Board or by law, individuals serve the remaining time until their maximum sentence on parole (indeterminate sentences) or post-release supervision (determinate) .
Both parole and post-release supervision involve strict conditions like curfews, travel restrictions, drug tests, and reporting to an officer. Violating conditions can result in re-imprisonment.
Implications of Sentencing Types
Indeterminate sentences give people a chance for early release through parole, but they face supervision for longer. Determinate sentences have defined release dates, but less chance of early release.
Critics argue determinate sentences are too harsh, while indeterminate sentences give too much power to parole boards. But both aim to balance punishment with rehabilitation.
Defenses to Reduce Sentences
Several strategies can help reduce potential sentences:
- Plea bargains: Agree to plead guilty in return for reduced charges or alternate sentences.
- Cooperation agreements: Provide testimony against co-defendants for sentencing leniency.
- Sentence mitigation: Present mitigating circumstances like mental health issues, remorse, or rehabilitation efforts.
- Legal challenges: Challenge the constitutionality or application of certain sentencing statutes.
An experienced New York criminal defense lawyer can advise on the best defenses and arguments to reduce a potential sentence.
Sentencing in New York depends on the classification of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and the type of sentence. While some sentences are rigidly defined, options like parole, good time credits, and various defenses can help reduce time spent incarcerated. Understanding the nuances of New York sentencing law allows defendants to make informed choices during their case.