A New York state statute that permits stiffer sentences for “persistent” felony offenders violates defendants’ constitutional right to a jury trial, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday (pdf).

Citing a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, especially Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), a three-judge panel unanimously concluded the state scheme vests unconstitutionally broad discretion in judges to set sentences of up to life in prison for offenders deemed to be persistent felons.