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New York: Double Jeopardy Prohibits Imposition of Post-release Supervision Once Defendant is Released from Custody

In a 5-2 decision on February 23, 2010, New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled that the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the resentencing of a defendant to correct an illegal sentence once the defendant has been released from custody following completion of his or her judicially-imposed term of imprisonment.

Over the objections of two dissenting justices, the Court of Appeals majority held that once freed from confinement, a defendant has a “legitimate expectation of finality” in the sentence originally issued by the trial court and, so long as the time to appeal the sentence has expired (or the appeal has been finally determined), “the sentence, although illegal under [New York’s] Penal law, is final and the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents a court from modifying the sentence to include a period of post-release supervision.”

When the New York legislature adopted Jenna’s Law in 1998, it instituted determinate terms of incarceration for certain felony offenses, replacing parole in those cases with a mandatory period of post-release supervision (PRS). The Court of Appeals subsequently held that a defendant had to be informed, before pleading guilty, that a period of PRS would constitute a part of his or her sentence; otherwise, the plea was invalid (under the knowing, voluntary and intelligent standard) and subject to being vacated. See: People v. Catu, 4 N.Y.3d 242 (2005).

In a later case, the Court held that only a judge could impose a PRS sentence; the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) was not authorized to add such a sentence administratively. See: Matter of Garner v. New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs., 10 N.Y.3d 358, 360 (2008).

Defendant Efrain Hernandez pleaded guilty without being informed that he was subject to PRS. DOCS administratively imposed five years of PRS before conditionally releasing him in December 2005. When Hernandez later violated PRS, he was sent to prison.

DOCS notified the trial court that Hernandez had not been properly sentenced in the first place. When he was returned to the trial court to have his sentence modified to include PRS, Hernandez opposed being resentenced, to no avail. On appeal the Appellate Division held that a sentencing court retains its inherent power to correct an illegal sentence indefinitely and that, even after release from confinement, a defendant cannot have a legitimate expectation of finality in an illegal sentence.

In consolidated appeals (which included Hernandez’s case), the New York Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that under the double jeopardy clause’s prohibition against multiple punishments “there must be a temporal limitation on a court’s ability to resentence a defendant.” See: People v. Williams, 14 N.Y.3d 198, 925 N.E.2d 878 (N.Y. 2010), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

People v. Williams