Maleng v. Cook
Decided on May 15, 1989; 490 US 488


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (prison), 5th and 6th amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did a habeas petitioner remain "in custody" under a conviction after his imposed sentence had fully expired, merely because of the possibility that the prior conviction would be used to enhance the sentences imposed for any subsequent crimes of which he is convicted?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

As the result of a 1958 conviction in a Washington state court, Mark Edwin Cook (respondent) served a sentence that expired in 1978. He was released on parole before completing his sentence.

While on parole, Cook committed assault and bank robbery. In 1976, he was convicted in another Washington state court for the assault charge and was sentenced to two life terms. He was also convicted and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by a federal court for the bank robbery charge. While serving his federal sentence, Cook brought a motion for habeas corpus challenging both his state and federal sentences and the enhancement of them resulting from his 1958 expired sentence.

Norm Maleng, King County Prosecuting Attorney (petitioner), argued that because the respondent had completed his first sentence he therefore was not in custody as required by the federal law allowing for habeas corpus review. The District Court ruled with the petitioner and dismissed respondent's writ. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision because it was determined that since respondent's 1958 conviction was used to increase his 1978 sentence, he was considered "in custody." The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' opinion.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
John B. Midgley argued the cause and filed a brief for the respondent. Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Attorney General of Washington argued the cause for the petitioner.

 Also on the brief were William L. Williams, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and John M. Jones, Assistant Attorney General, both named on petitioning brief.

C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by Sheryl Gordon McCloud and John A. Powell; and for The National Legal Aid & Defender Association by Alan Raphael. No amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the petitioner.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Cook is not presently 'in custody' under the 1958 sentence, but he is 'in custody' under the 1978 sentences. Although a prisoner need not be physically confined in order to challenge his sentence on habeas corpus, once a sentence has completely expired, the possibility that the prior conviction will be used to enhance the sentences imposed for any subsequent convictions is not itself sufficient to render an individual 'in custody...' However, Cook can challenge the 1978 sentences. While he is not physically confined under those sentences, the fact that the State has placed a detainer with the federal authorities to ensure that he will be returned to the State authorities at the conclusion of his federal sentence is sufficient to put him 'in custody' for habeas purposes... And Cook's habeas petition, construed with the deference to which pro se litigants are entitled, can be read as asserting a challenge to the 1978 sentences as enhanced by the allegedly invalid prior conviction.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed. PER CURIAM."

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
Per curiam (by the court) decision. No individual authorship of decision.

  • Rehnquist, W. Pro
  • White, B. Pro
  • O’Connor, S. Pro
  • Scalia, A. Pro
  • Kennedy, A. Pro
  • Stevens, J. Pro
  • Brennan, W. Pro
  • Marshall, T. Pro
  • Blackmun, H. Pro

V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the lower court in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.