NY Prison Officials Broke Law by Imposing Parole

     (CN) – High-ranking corrections officials in New York willfully violated the law by administratively adding a term of parole to convicted felons’ sentences when no parole was imposed by a judge, the Second Circuit ruled.
     In 1998, the New York State Legislature amended the sentencing guidelines to require that every prison sentence for a person convicted of a violent felony be followed by a term of parole.
     However, not every judge pronounced parole terms during sentencing proceedings as required by the new law. In these cases, the Department of Correctional Services added a parole term administratively.
     In 2006, the Second Circuit ruled this practice of adding a term of post-release supervision via administrative procedure invalid in Earley v. Murray, finding that the U.S. Constitution forbids the state from modifying a sentence imposed by a judge.
     Nevertheless, Department of Correctional Services officials Anthony Annucci and Brian Fischer, as well as New York State Division of Parole official Terence Tracy, decided to ignore the court’s ruling.
     The officials only complied with the court’s decision after the New York Court of Appeals invalidated the same practice 22 months later.
     Meanwhile, approximately 1,800 felons were released subject to the conditions of parole, when they were never sentenced to post-release supervision, and hundreds were allegedly re-incarcerated based on purported parole violations.
     U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin not only ruled for the plaintiff class of felons subjected to the illegal sentence, but found that the state’s appeal was frivolous and the class could proceed with a trial on damages.
     The Second Circuit affirmed the decision Friday.
     “The defendants did not take objectively reasonable steps to comply with Earley I because, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to them, it took Annucci 19 months, Tracy 15 months, and Fischer 14 months to take the first meaningful steps to bring their departments into compliance,” U.S. Circuit Judge John Walker said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     All three prison officials testified that their failure to comply with the federal court’s order was not the result of confusion, but an affirmative decision.
     Further, the logistical difficulty of resentencing offenders who had not been assigned parole terms is not a valid excuse for defying the court’s ruling, the opinion states.
     “Each defendant testified that nothing prevented him from taking these steps back in 2006, and the logistical difficulties did not decrease in the interim,” Walker said.
     Scheindlin’s grant of plaintiffs’ motion to deem the appeal frivolous is moot because the officials obtained a stay of further proceedings in the district court pending the outcome of this appeal.

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