THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK ex rel. GERALD JOHNSON, Respondent,
WALTER B. MARTIN, as Warden of Attica State Prison, Respondent. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Appellant.
APPEAL from an order of the County Court of Wyoming County (CONABLE, J.), entered February 18, 1953, which sustained a writ of habeas corpus and ordered relator discharged from custody. Section 288 of article 12 of the Correction Law provides as follows: ' Sentence to Elmira reformatory. Any person who shall be convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment in Elmira reformatory, and who, upon such conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment therein, shall be imprisoned according to this article, and not otherwise. The term of such imprisonment of any person so convicted and sentenced shall be terminated by the board of parole in the executive department, but such imprisonment shall be for a period not to exceed five years, except as provided in the case of persons convicted of an offense less than felony and transferred by order of the commissioner of correction from another institution of the department to Elmira reformatory the term of imprisonment shall be for a period not to exceed three years.'
Nathaniel L. Goldstein, Attorney-General (J. Bruce MacDonald, Wendell P. Brown, Herman N. Harcourt and Manuel T. Muccia of counsel), for appellant.
Hayden H. Dadd, amicus curiae.
No appearance for relator.
The People have appealed from an order of the Wyoming County Court which sustained the relator's writ of habeas corpus and discharged him from the custody of the Warden of Attica State Prison. On May 27, 1947, the relator, then twenty years of age, upon his plea of guilty to the crime of burglary, third degree, was sentenced in the County Court of Yates County in the following manner:
'Ordered and Adjudged by the Court, that the said Gerald Rufus Johnson for the (felony) be committed to the Reception Center of the Department of Correction at Elmira, New York, for classification and confinement pursuant to Article 3-A of the Correction Law.'
The records of the Department of Correction show that relator was received by the Reception Center on May 28, 1947; transferred to Elmira Reformatory August 8, 1947; paroled August 30, 1948; declared delinquent and returned to Elmira, November
24, 1948; transferred to Woodbourne, March 1, 1949; reparoled December 21, 1950; declared delinquent and returned to Attica State Prison July 31, 1951. He was held at Attica when he petitioned for the writ on January 23, 1953. It was relator's contention that under the commitment of the Yates County Court, dated May 27, 1947, his term of imprisonment was for a maximum of five years pursuant to section 288 of the Correction Law and that his term had expired. The position of the State is that, no maximum having been fixed by the sentencing court upon sentence, the relator could be held in custody for the maximum time provided by law as punishment for burglary, third degree, which maximum is ten years. (Penal Law, § 407.)
We agree with the disposition made of the matter by the Wyoming County Court but do not adopt all the reasons therefor embodied in the court's decision. It was there said that the sentence imposed was a proper one and intimates that had the reception center in 1947 certified the relator to a State prison instead of to Elmira Reformatory, the State's computation of the maximum sentence of ten years would have been proper. The court held that having been certified to Elmira Reformatory, however, the relator's maximum sentence was governed by section 288 of the Correction Law and such maximum was five years. So far as the instant case is concerned, the amendment to section 1931 of the Penal Law in 1949 is a complete answer to the State's position. In cases where the sentencing court failed to fix minimum and maximum limits by its sentence, the question apparently arose in the Department of Correction as to what the maximum would be. In 1946 the Attorney-General rendered an opinion (1946 Atty. Gen. 207). He stated (p. 208): 'It is my opinion that a sentence in which no maximum or minimum is imposed by the court is an indefinite sentence, the type of sentence appropriately imposed heretofore upon commitment of prisoners to the New York State Vocational Institution and Elmira Reformatory, and in such a connection might popularly be designated a 'reformatory sentence'.'
Thereafter, the Legislature met the problem by amending said section 1931 of the Penal Law effective April 5, 1949. The section provides: 'Whenever in this chapter the punishment for a crime is left undetermined between certain limits, the punishment to be inflicted in a particular case must be determined by the court authorized to pass sentence, within such limits as may be ...