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New York: Illegal Application of Parole Condition Clearly Established

New York: Illegal Application of Parole Condition Clearly Established


The Second Circuit Court of Appeal has held that its ruling in Earley v. Murray, 451 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2006) clearly established the unconstitutionality of New York prison officials administratively imposing Post Release Supervision (PRS) that was not part of a court’s sentencing order.


The Appellate Court’s ruling was entered in an appeal by twelve former prisoners who were not informed at sentencing or in their sentencing order that they would be subject to PRS, but the defendants, including five employees from the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and four officials from the New York State Division of Parole, administratively subjected them to PRS. Most of the plaintiffs were reincarcerated following determinations that they had violated their PRS conditions.


The PRS became law as part of a 1998 sentencing reform act, commonly known as “Jenna’s Law” enacted by the New York Legislature. That law established a “scheme of determinate sentencing “ for violent offenders, eliminated parole for all such offenders, and required that determinate terms of imprisonment be followed by periods of mandatory post lease supervision.


After the law became effective, some courts were not informing some defendants who had pleaded guilty that they would be subject to PRS. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that failure unconstitutional. In some cases, the commitment orders did not mention PRS.


DOCS took the position that PRS was to be automatically imposed by law and an order from the judge was not required. DOCS’s prisoner Sean Earley filed a habeas petition challenging the PRS administrative imposition on him after his sentence was completed and he was reincarcerated for violation of his PRS conditions. The district court denied the petition, but the Second Circuit held the five-year PRS term added to his sentence was invalid. [See: PLN, Setp. 2013, p.48; April 2010, p.46].


On rehearing, the court reiterated that custodial terms of sentences must be explicitly imposed by a judge, and alterations can have no effect under the constitution if the alteration is as imposed by DOCS administrators or the operation of New York law. See: Early v. Murray, 462 F.3d 147 (2d Cir. 2006).


Former DOCS prisoners Shawn Vincent and Jimmie Johnson and nine other plaintiff filed separate civil rights actions for damages incurred for harm they suffered by DOCS imposing PRS upon them without a court order. The district courts dismissed the complaints on grounds the defendants had no personal involvement in imposing PRS, statute of limitations barred the claims, sovereign immunity applied, and they were entitled to qualified immunity.


The defendants argued, in large part, that it was not until 2000 that the New York Court of Appeals declared the administrative imposition of PRS on prisoners who had not been so sentenced judicially to be unlawful under state law. The Second Circuit said state and local officials are required to comply not just with state law. As such, qualified immunity did not apply at this stage of the proceeding.


The court, however, affirmed dismissal of all defendants except Anthony J. Annucci, DOCS’s counsel and Deputy Commissioner, because the plaintiff complaints and briefs focus on his role. The court noted Annucci admitted he was aware of its early ruling and disagreed with it, and it was alleged he did not act to have PRS imposed on prisoners where sentencing order did not call for it.


The district courts’ orders were affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part. See: Vincent v. Yelich, 718 F.3d 157 (2d Cir. 2013).

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Related legal cases

Vincent v. Yelich

Earley v. Murray

Early v. Murray