Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In April, 2008 the Court of Appeals in People v Sparber (10 NY3d 457 [2008]), held that only a judge, and not prison or court clerks can impose Post Release Supervision [PRS], even when sentencing courts failed to pronounce PRS as required by law. New York reacted to this this holding by enacting Correction Law 601-d which purports to empower courts to re-sentence person to PRS, even after they have already served their complete sentence. The authority of courts to resentence under this statue was challenged on both statutory and constitutional grounds.

This issue was resolved in People v Williams (__NY3d__, 2010 NY Slip Op 01527 [2/23/10]), in which the Court of Appeals, in a decision considering five such challenges, held that
after release from prison, a legitimate expectation in the finality of a sentence arises and the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents reformation to attach a PRS component to the original completed sentence.... So long as an illegal sentence is subject to correction, a defendant cannot claim a legitimate expectation that the originally-imposed, improper sentence is final for all purposes (see United States v Fogel, 829 F2d 77, 87 [DC Cir 1987])...Yet, there must be a temporal limitation on a court's ability to resentence a defendant (see generally DeWitt v Ventetoulo, 6 F3d at 34-35) since criminal courts do not have perpetual jurisdiction over all persons who were once sentenced for criminal acts. Even where a defendant's sentence is illegal, there is a legitimate expectation of finality once the initial sentence has been served and the direct appeal has been completed (or the time to appeal has expired). In these situations, the sentences are beyond the court's authority and an additional term of PRS may not be imposed. With the caveats we have identified, in a case where PRS was not formally pronounced by the sentencing court pursuant to CPL 380.20, we hold that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits a court from resentencing the defendant to the mandatory term of PRS after the defendant has served the determinate term of imprisonment and has been released from confinement by DOCS.

Obviously great news for those who challenged their resentence and those who had been facing resentencing. But what about the many people (perhaps thousands) who have already been resentenced and are now either serving or are in custody in violation of unconstitutionally imposed PRS? Are the Department of Corrections and Division of Parole going to identify who these people are and inform them that they were apparently resentenced illegally and, as appropriate, entitled to stop serving PRS or to release from prison? If that is asking too much, will the Department of Corrections and Division of Parole at least notify judges who apparently illegally resentenced people that they may wish to notify those affected. Don't forget after Sparber was issued, judges were notified by these Departments that they should resentence those who had not been sentenced to PRS, even when, as we now know, those resentences were unconstitutional? So having help create this problem, one would hope these Departments will take steps mitigate the harm. Isn't it wrong, absent any lawful sentence or authority, for New York to continue to keep these people either locked up reporting to PRS when the State knows those sentenced were unconstitutional. Don't we have a budget crisis?

If a sense of fairness and right doesn't motivate New York, how about money? Can we afford to incarcerate or supervise people with no lawful sentences? Can we afford the lawsuits that ultimately will be brought by those illegally kept in custody by a state which does not notify them of the Williams decision?

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