Hogan v. Culkin

Decision Date27 October 1966
Citation18 N.Y.2d 330,274 N.Y.S.2d 881,221 N.E.2d 546
Parties, 221 N.E.2d 546 In the Matter of Frank S. HOGAN, as District Attorney of New York County, Appellant, v. Gerald P. CULKIN, as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York; Warden of Green Haven Prison, Appellant, and David Betillo, Respondent.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen. (Michael H. Rauch and Samuel A. Hirshowitz, New York City, of counsel), and Frank S. Hogan, Dist. Atty. (Alan F. Leibowitz, New York City, of counsel), for appellants.

Joseph Aronstein, New York City, for respondent.

FULD, Judge.

The primary question here presented is whether, under CPLR 7004 (c), a writ of habeas corpus directed to the warden of a State prison may be made returnable and heard before a Justice of the Supreme Court in a county other than that in which the relator is detained.

The relator is presently serving a sentence of 25 to 40 years (as a parole violator) at Green Haven State Prison in Dutchess County, consequent upon his conviction on certain felony charges in the Supreme Court, New York County, in 1936. Some months ago he sued out a writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court, New York County, alleging, Inter alia, that, when he appeared for sentence in 1936 he was not asked, as required by section 480 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, why judgment should not be pronounced against him. 1 The writ was made returnable in New York County before the issuing justice who denied a motion by the district attorney to amend the writ by making it returnable in Dutchess County, the situs of the relator's detention. The district attorney thereupon instituted this proceeding under article 78 of the CPLR for a judgment in the nature of prohibition to restrain the issuing justice from holding a hearing on the writ in New York County, and to prohibit the warden from producing his prisoner there. The Appellate Division denied the application, and the appeal is in this court by our permission.

Prior to 1922, the pertinent statutes left it within the sound discretion of the issuing judge to determine whether a writ of habeas corpus should be made returnable outside the county in which the relator was detained. (See Code Civ.Proc., § 2023 (L.1880, ch. 178); Civ.Prac.Act, § 1239, subd. 2 (L.1920, ch. 925); see People ex rel. Van Buren v. Superintendent, 118 Misc. 145, 192 N.Y.S. 511.) However, in order to obviate the administrative, security and financial burdens entailed in requiring prison authorities to produce inmates pursuant to such writs in a county other than that in which they were detained, the statute was amended in 1922, on recommendation of the Attorney-General and the Superintendent of Prisons, so as to make special provision for writs directed to those in charge of State prisons or other State institutions. The new legislation (Civ.Prac.Act, § 1239, subd. 3, as added by L.1922, ch. 187) mandated that 'All writs of habeas corpus directed to the * * * warden of a state prison, or the superintendent * * * of a state institution, must be made returnable before a * * * (judge) in the county in which the person is detained', unless there was no such judge 'in the county capable of acting', in which event the writ was to be made returnable before the nearest accessible judge 'in an adjoining county'. This language was thereafter uniformly interpreted as requiring that, under normal circumstances, a writ sued out by an inmate of a State institution was to be made returnable solely in the county where the institution was located. (See, e.g., Matter of Holbrook v. Holbrook, 31 Misc.2d 288, 220 N.Y.S.2d 382; People ex rel. Ursoy v. Superintendent of New York State Training School for Girls at Hudson, 120 Misc. 353, 198 N.Y.S. 432.)

Subdivision (c) of CPLR 7004, which has superseded the Civil Practice Act section on the subject, continues the differentiation between writs directed to State institutions and writs issued in other cases. The problem here presented arises only because of certain verbal changes made in the course of the consolidation and rephrasing of the applicable provisions. Thus, in place of the former language that 'All writs of habeas corpus' directed to a State institution were to be made returnable in the county of the relator's detention, the CPLR section recites that 'A writ To secure the discharge of a person from a state institution' must be made so returnable and that 'In all other cases' the writ is to be returnable in the county where it was issued unless the issuing court or judge decides to make it returnable in the county of detention. (Emphasis supplied.) 2

Interpreting these terms in a strictly literal sense, a majority of the Appellate Division held that, since the relator was not seeking to be 'discharged', but only to be 'resentenced', the provision limiting the place of return of the writ to the county of detention was inapplicable and the place of return of the writ was, instead, left to the sound discretion of the issuing judge.

We cannot accept that interpretation. As the explanatory notes of the draftsmen of the CPLR make clear, the paraphrasing of the language in the Civil Practice Act was not intended to alter the rule that habeas corpus hearings must be held in the county of detention when the relator is an inmate of a State institution. The notes expressly state that 'The only change in substance' was to provide, in cases where no judge was available in the county of detention, for the writ 'to be returned to the 'nearest accessible' judge, rather than (as formerly) to the 'nearest accessible * * * judge in an adjoining county. " (See N.Y.Legis. Doc., 1959, No. 17, p. 66; see, also, 7 Weinstein-Korn-Miller, N.Y.Civ. Prac., par. 7004.07, p. 70--38.) Obviously, then, the phrase, 'A writ to secure the discharge of a person from a state institution', was adopted merely as a generic description of habeas corpus in terms of its function.

The Legislature has sought to relieve wardens of State prisons from having to comply with writs of habeas corpus by producing inmates out of the county detention, under guard, and often at great distances and great expense. (See Ahrens v. Clark, 335 U.S. 188, 191, 68 S.Ct. 1443, 92 L.Ed. 1898.) The burden is equally heavy whether the relief sought by the writ be that of a permanent 'discharge' or simply a remand for resentencing. Manifestly, to differentiate between the two situations would not only be completely illogical and unrealistic but would, indeed, serve to thwart the very policy considerations underlying the statute. Absent clear language to that effect, and considering the contrary indications to be found in the Revisors' Notes, we will not ascribe such ambivalent intentions to the Legislature. 'In construing statutory provisions, the spirit and purpose of the statute and the objectives sought to be accomplished by the legislature must be borne in mind. '* * * Literal meanings of words are not to be adhered to or suffered to 'defeat the general purpose and manifest policy intended to be promoted'. " (See...

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