Early Release Gripes of Inmate Baffle 9th Circuit

     (CN) – A man who sued after Montana let him out of prison five years early does not have a federal case, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
     After pleading guilty in 1993 to four counts of sexual assault, Jesse Engebretson was sentenced to four concurrent 20-year terms.
     Because he had also been convicted of a burglary within the prior five years, Montana also classified Engebretson as a persistent felony offender.
     The judge accordingly sentenced Engebretson to serve an additional 30 years in prison, but then suspended the sentence and imposed probation instead.
     This suspension was illegal, however, since Montana law states “the imposition or execution of a sentence imposed under” the persistent felony law “may not be deferred or suspended.”
     Engebretson was released in 2003 and began serving his probation sentence.
     Three years later, he filed a habeas petition arguing that his sentencing was illegal. The Montana Supreme Court agreed, and remanded his entire sentence.
     On remand, the trial court again sentenced him to four 20-year terms, but judged that he had served the sentence, and deleted the conditions of his probation. The order did not mention his persistent felony offender status or impose a five-year prison term.
     Two years later, Engebretson and his wife filed a pro se action against the warden of the prison where he served his sentence and the director of the Montana Department of Corrections, seeking $10 million for his illegal sentence.
     “In other words, the Engebretsons sought damages because Jesse Engebretson was released from prison earlier than he should have been,” the 9th Circuit explained Thursday (italics in original).
     A federal judge dismissed the complaint, and the Seattle-based appellate panel affirmed.
     “Prison officials who simply enforce facially valid court orders ‘are performing functions necessary to the judicial process,'” Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote for a three-judge panel. “They must not be required to second-guess the courts if that process is to work fairly and efficiently. … [W]e hold that prison officials, like the defendants in this case, who are charged with executing facially valid court orders enjoy absolute immunity from § 1983 liability for conduct prescribed by those orders.”

%d bloggers like this: