Tuesday, August 30, 2011
State Officials Ruled Immune From Post-Release Action
State prison and parole officials cannot be held liable for violating the constitutional rights of felons by administratively imposing a period of post-release supervision, Western District Judge David G. Larimer held yesterday. He said the officials are entitled to qualified immunity because it did not become clear until April 2008 that the prison system could not add the legally mandated post-release supervision period when the court had neglected to do so on the record.
Vincent v. Yelich, 08-cv-6570Lm, and Johnson v. Fischer, 09-cv-6323L, involved 11 inmates who had served a determinate prison sentence and were released between March 2002 and June 2007. Under Penal Law §70.45, each was required to complete a five-year period of post-release supervision. However, because the sentencing court did not specifically order post-release supervision in these cases and many others, officials at what was then the Department of Correctional Services administratively imposed the statutory required supervisory period.
In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Earley v. Murray, 451 F.3d 71, held that post-release supervision was not enforceable unless imposed by the sentencing judge. However, not all New York state courts followed Earley and it was not until April 2008 that the New York Court of Appeals in Garner v. DOCS, 10 NY 3d 358, and People v. Sparber, 10 NY 3d 457, made clear that state law prohibited DOCS from administratively adding post-release super-vision.
"Hindsight is always 20/20," Judge Larimer wrote. "Although the unconstitutionality and/or unlawfulness of defendants' practice of administratively mandating [post-release supervision] may be clear today, it was manifestly not so prior to April 2008, when New York state appellate courts remained split as to Earley's import and scope, and had identified numerous well-seeming ways to distinguish it."