A state statute that permits stiffer sentences for “persistent” felony offenders violates defendants’ constitutional right to a jury trial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled yesterday.

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.