Why Marquis Dixon's Sentence May Be Too Severe

ALBANY, N.Y. — The way Aisha Dixon sees it, her 19-year-old son Marquis Dixon has served his time.

"He made that mistake when he was young," she says. "I've got to look at him as a grown man when he comes home."

No one is sure when Marquis will be coming home. He is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence at Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie — just 20 miles from the city where he stole a pair of sneakers and was convicted of an armed robbery in 2014.

Friday finally provided some hope for Aish, that her son will be home soon.

"Just to hear some positive things come out of a judge's mouth ... it felt real good," she said.

Aisha was one of dozens sitting in the State Supreme Court Appellate Division on Friday morning, as Marquis Dixon's case was probed by five justices who reviewed an appeal of Dixon's sentence. His family, lawyers and supporters all feel the nine-year term is too harsh for Dixon's crime.

For a time during the appeal process, it appeared Presiding Justice Karen Peters agreed.

"I think there's been a mistake in the beginning of this case," Peters said Friday, interrupting Dixon's own lawyer. Peters explained that when an Albany County Court judge deemed Dixon ineligible for "youthful offender status" at his sentencing in 2015, he committed a key error: failing to ask the prosecutors and defense attorneys if Dixon should receive the status.

"Youthful offender status" allows defendants 17 and younger to receive more lenient sentences, and allows them to seek better rehabilitative care post-sentencing. Because the judge declared Dixon ineligible, no arguments were ever heard on the matter.

"Everyone seemed to think that this young man was ineligible for youthful offender treatment," said Peters, "when in reality, he could have been eligible."

The judge in 2015 declared Dixon ineligible because the law does not permit for an armed felon to be treated as a youthful offender; Dixon was believed to be carrying a handgun when he stole the sneakers in 2014. However, certain factors can be grounds for an exception, including the defendant's background and prior criminal record. None of those were ever discussed when Dixon was originally sentenced.

The oversight means that Dixon's sentence could be reduced or thrown out entirely. There is also a chance he could be re-tried in the case.

Albany County Assistant District Attorney Chris Horn had a chance to argue in favor of the sentence. He noted that at the sentencing hearing, the district attorney only asked for a sentence matching the severity of the crime — not for any specific number of years. Dixon was facing up to 25 years in prison at the time.

In defending the prison term, Horn noted that Dixon had a spotty record as a youth.

"He'd been unsuccessfully discharged from juvenile drug treatment court because he had tested positive for THC and cocaine," said Horn. "He'd been placed on juvenile probation, and then violated his probation."

"We have sympathy for Mr. Dixon," Horn continued. "But we also have an obligation to protect other young teenagers on the streets of Albany who are being threatened with guns."

Marquis Dixon was not in Albany for his appeal hearing, but was able to view it by internet connection. Before the hearing, his mother reached Dixon by telephone at Greene Correctional. He signaled to her that he is still holding out hope.

"You can't get time back, but hopefully I can just go forward," Dixon said, "and come home ... stay positive, and just do me."

A decision from the appellate court is expected in six to eight weeks.

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