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Supreme Court to conclude that an error had been made


A 54 years old woman has a long history of drug abuse and a lengthy criminal history, consisting primarily of drug-related offenses.

During the woman’s younger age, she dropped out of school in the seventh or eighth grade because she was having problems at home, and began using speed and heroin. Following a stay in a rehabilitation facility, she was able to stop using drugs for a period of about nine years. However, after both of her parents became seriously ill and passed away, she began misusing the valium pills which had been prescribed to her for depression and insomnia.
Subsequently, she was arrested with her boyfriend on charges of assault, burglary, and robbery. The victim of the offense was the woman’s former boyfriend. Two days after her arrest, she was arraigned and released on her own recognizance. She and her boyfriend were subsequently charged with 12-count indictment, with multiple offenses including assault in the second degree.

In the years following her arrest for the assault of her former boyfriend, she was arrested 14 additional times, and convicted of a number of misdemeanor offenses and violations. For a period of approximately 10 years between, she claims that her drug habit spiraled out of control to such a degree that she ended up living in a subway tunnel, and supporting herself through prostitution. At one point, she became so ill that she sought medical treatment at a free clinic, and learned that she was five months pregnant. Although she stopped using drugs for the remainder of her pregnancy, after the birth of her child, she once again began using heroin and marijuana, and funding her drug habit through prostitution.

Afterward, she was arrested and subsequently indicted for criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. After the trial, she was convicted of the charged offense. Prior to sentencing, the complainant filed a predicate felony statement alleging that the woman had previously been convicted of the felony of assault in the second degree. When she appeared for sentencing, she was arraigned on the predicate felony statement, and advised of her right to challenge any of the allegations in the statement and to challenge the constitutionality of her alleged prior conviction. She was then adjudicated a second felony offender and was sentenced to a term of 4½ to 9 years of imprisonment. Sources revealed that the sentence imposed was the minimum permissible term for a second felony offender convicted of a class B felony.

Upon being sentenced, the woman was transferred to the custody of the department of correctional services. Shortly after she arrived at the facility, the employees reviewed her criminal history. By letter, the record coordinator asked the clerk of the Supreme Court to forward the commitment order relating to the woman’s previous conviction. In response, the clerk prepared a duplicate commitment order, and forwarded it back to the facility. The duplicate commitment order indicated that the woman had been convicted of assault in the second degree, and sentenced to an indeterminate term of 1½ to 4½ years of imprisonment.
The facility, relying upon the duplicate commitment order, calculated the total term of imprisonment that the woman would be required to serve and included the term of 1½ to 4½ years evidently imposed upon her for the assault conviction. Upon adding the apparently un-discharged term to the term imposed for the woman’s drug conviction, the department of correctional services determined that the total term of imprisonment that she would be required to serve was 6 to 13½ years. Burglary was not charged.

Later, the woman wrote a number of letters to various individuals and agencies inquiring about her status with respect to her alleged conviction, and whether the term of imprisonment which had supposedly been imposed upon that conviction should run concurrently rather than consecutively to the term imposed for her.

At some point, the woman obtained assistance from a legal clinic. According to the woman, it was the inquiries made by two of the clinic’s dedicated law students that led the Supreme Court to conclude that an error had been made, and that she had never been arraigned, convicted, and sentenced on the charges that resulted in her alleged conviction. She was then released from custody that same day.

About eight months after her release, she filed an instant criminal claim against the state, essentially alleging that the negligence of state employees had caused her to be imprisoned for more than five years longer than she should have been. More specifically, she alleged that due to the negligence and carelessness of the employees, records were created which erroneously indicated that she had been convicted of robbery in the second degree and sentenced to a term of 1½ to 4½ years of imprisonment, and that based upon the said negligently prepared records, she had been improperly evaluated as a second felony offender, and required to serve a portion of the nonexistent 1½ to 4½ year sentence.

After the discovery had been completed, the woman requested for a decision without trial on the issue of liability, arguing that through a series of failures of care and omissions, court employees had prepared state records that resulted in her imprisonment for crimes of which she had never been convicted, and an increased term of imprisonment for a crime of which she had been convicted. With that regard, she contended that the part clerk’s careless entries on the court file had resulted in the erroneous reporting that she had been convicted of assault in the second degree and sentenced for that offense, and that the sentence clerk’s negligent preparation of a duplicate commitment order, without consulting the court file, had caused the facility to add the nonexistent sentence imposed for her alleged conviction in calculating the total amount of time she was required to serve. She further asserts that the department of correctional services employees had compounded the initial negligence of the court employees with their own failures to properly investigate inquiries concerning her status.

The state however countered by cross-moving the case and requested to dismiss the claim against them. In support of it, the state argued that the claim should be dismissed for a number of reasons, including governmental immunity and lack of a duty of care. The state further asserts that it could not be held liable for the alleged negligence of its employees because the woman’s own conduct was the proximate reason of her extended imprisonment.
As a result, the court of claims denied the woman’s request on the issue of liability, and granted that branch of the State’s cross motion. The court found that the woman had made a showing that some or all of the alleged acts of negligence committed by non-judicial court personnel were ministerial in nature, and thus not protected by governmental immunity. The court further noted that the woman had made a strong showing that the part clerk who entered the incorrect information in her court file had failed to use that degree of care which a reasonably prudent person would have used under the situation. The woman subsequently appeals.

Consequently, the court ordered to modify the previous decision by deleting the provision granting the branch of the state’s cross motion, and substituting a provision denying the said branch. The order is then affirmed, without costs or disbursements.

It is important to have the assistance or guidance of an attorney whenever you have a legal case. Just like what happens to a lot of people, you might be a victim of erroneous terms of imprisonment. Whenever you need help with your lawsuit, you can ask the Kings County Prostitution Attorney or Kings County Criminal Lawyer. Simply call Stephen Bilkis and Associates office for more details.

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