In Garvin v. New York, the justices have been asked to review two separate constitutional questions – one arising under the Fourth Amendment, the other under the Sixth – stemming from an arrest and conviction for a series of bank robberies.
The case arose when five New York City police officers went to Sean Garvin’s door to question him about his involvement in the robberies. While Garvin was standing at the front door to his apartment (but still inside the doorway), a police officer – who did not have a warrant – told him that he was under arrest. Garvin went along with the officers, and he eventually confessed to the robberies after being told that his fingerprints, along with those of his girlfriend, had been found at the scene of the crimes.
Garvin went to trial and was convicted of four counts of robbery. Because Garvin had previously been convicted of a felony, he received a sentence of 15 years to life under a New York law that allows the sentencing judge to increase a defendant’s sentence if the court determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed at least two prior felonies and that an enhanced sentence would “best serve the public interest.”
Garvin challenged both the use of his confessions against him and his sentence. First, he contended that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they arrested him inside his apartment without either a warrant or an emergency. The state courts rejected that argument: Although the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that, if police do not have a warrant or a suspect’s permission, they cannot enter the suspect’s home to arrest him, the lower courts reasoned that in this case the police didn’t go into the apartment, but instead arrested Garvin in the doorway.
The state courts also rejected Garvin’s challenge to his enhanced sentence. In the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court), one judge dissented from that ruling. He would have held that New York’s persistent felony offender scheme is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Apprendi v. New Jersey, holding that juries – rather than judges – must find, beyond a reasonable doubt, any facts that increase a sentence beyond the statutory maximum.
Garvin is now asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, telling the justices that the lower courts are deeply divided on both constitutional questions. New York waived its right to file a brief opposing review, but the court nonetheless asked the state to respond – which suggests that at least one justice has some interest in the petition. The court could announce as soon as Thursday, September 27, whether it will take up Garvin’s case.