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New York Not Liable for Unauthorized Addition of Post-Release Supervision

 The New York Court of Appeals has held that the state cannot be held liable for the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) adding post-release supervision to prisoners' sentences when it had not been ordered by a judge.

Farrah Donald, Shakira Eanes, Jonathan Orellanes and Ismael Ortiz were convicted of felony offenses and given determinate sentences without the judge orally pronouncing that there would be a period of post-release supervision (PRS). In each case, the DOCS added PRS when they were released. All except Orellanes were re-imprisoned for violating the conditions of their PRS. All filed suit in the state Court of Claims alleging false imprisonment. The Court of Claims granted Donald partial summary judgment, but dismissed the other cases. All were appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the partial summary judgment in Donald's case and affirmed the other cases. All four were appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On June 23, 2011, the Court of Appeals held that Orellanes's claim should be dismissed because, although the judge failed to orally pronounce a period of PRS, the commitment sheet from the court did have a PRS. Therefore, the DOCS had merely carried out the mandate of the court and the court alone was responsible for the error in failing to orally pronounce the PRS.

The court also held that Donald, Eanes and Ortiz had failed to plead that they were falsely imprisoned, an essential element of the tort. Donald and Eanes also failed to plead another essential element of the tort--that their confinement was not privileged. "A detention, otherwise unlawful, is privileged where the confinement was by arrest under a valid process issued by a court having jurisdiction." Neither Donald nor Eanes alleged defects in the process that resulted in their arrests for violating their PRSs.

Their claims could also be interpreted as asserting that the state negligently subjected Donlad, Eanes and Ortiz to unauthorized PBS. However, the state is immune from suit for discretionary acts of its officials. This applies even when the official was mistaken. Such was the case when the DOCS added PRSs to the determinate sentences. The DOCS did not have the authority to add the PRSs, but the DOCS often has to interpret the directions it receives from judges. "Because DOCS was exercising--albeit mistakenly--the discretion given it by law, its acts cannot he a basis for State liability." Therefore, the Appellate Division decisions were affirmed with costs. See: Donald v. New York, No. 97; Shakira v. New York, No. 140, SSM 24; Orellanes v. New York, No. 141, SSM 25, and Ortiz v. New York, No. 142, SSM 26; New York Court of Appeals.

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Related legal cases

Donald v. New York

Shakira v. New York, No. 140, SSM 24

Orellanes v. New York

Ortiz v. New York