The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division has upheld a $35,000 damage award in favor of a former prisoner illegally confined for three weeks.
In October 2007, Robert Miller was charged with second- and third-degree drug offenses. He pleaded guilty to a single third-degree offense in March 2009 and was released pending sentencing.
Miller received 18 months in prison and 18 months of post-release supervision on May 4, 2009. By that time he had already served his full prison term. Even so, he was returned to custody for processing, with the understanding that he would be released the next day. That didn’t happen.
The City of New York Department of Correction held Miller for several days before transferring him to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) on May 12, 2009.
DOCCS officials quickly realized that his maximum prison term had expired. Yet they refused to release him until June 3, 2009.
Miller filed wrongful confinement claims against the state. Following a bifurcated non-jury trial, the New York Court of Claims found the state liable in August 2012, and nine months later the Court awarded Miller damages totaling $35,000 plus statutory interest. The state appealed both decisions.
The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that DOCCS was “conclusively bound” by Miller’s sentencing order but held him beyond the maximum sentence absent any legal authority to do so.
The Court rejected the defendant’s argument “that the need to finalize the terms of claimant’s postrelease supervision conflicted with the expiration of his prison sentence, and somehow authorized his continued detention under the terms of the sentence and commitment order.” Similarly, the state’s argument “that DOCCS officials acted within their discretion by confining claimant until those terms had been finalized is also without merit,” the appellate court wrote, because “it is well settled that DOCCS has no jurisdiction to extend or modify a prison sentence.”
The Appellate Division upheld the damage award, finding that Miller’s experience was Kafkaesque. Additionally, the Court found the damage award was not disproportionately high due to Miller’s three-week loss of liberty and “mental torment.” See: Miller v. New York, 124 A.D.3d 997, 4 N.Y.S.3d 143 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2015).
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Related legal case
Miller v. New York
|Cite||124 A.D.3d 997, 4 N.Y.S.3d 143 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2015).|
|Level||State Supreme Court|