State ex rel. Schmitt v. Crane, WD84866

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtALOK AHUJA, JUDGE
Decision Date28 December 2021
PartiesSTATE OF MISSOURI, ex rel. ERIC S. SCHMITT, Relator, v. THE HONORABLE KEVIN CRANE, Circuit Judge of Callaway County, and MEGAN MORSE, Circuit Clerk of Callaway County, Respondents.
Docket NumberWD84866

STATE OF MISSOURI, ex rel. ERIC S. SCHMITT, Relator,
v.

THE HONORABLE KEVIN CRANE, Circuit Judge of Callaway County, and MEGAN MORSE, Circuit Clerk of Callaway County, Respondents.

No. WD84866

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Writ Division

December 28, 2021


Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Before: Alok Ahuja, P.J., and Mark D. Pfeiffer and W. Douglas Thomson, JJ.

ALOK AHUJA, JUDGE

The Circuit Court of Callaway County issued a writ of habeas corpus to petitioner Michael Isreal. In its judgment, the circuit court concluded that Isreal had fully served sentences imposed on him in 1974 and 1978, and was therefore entitled to be discharged from State custody. The State filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in this Court, asking that we review the circuit court's judgment. Because we conclude that the circuit court correctly granted habeas relief to Isreal, we refuse to quash the record of the circuit court proceedings.

Factual Background

As the State acknowledges, the relevant facts are not in dispute.

In 1974, when he was sixteen years old, Michael Isreal was convicted in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis of robbery in the first degree by means of a dangerous and deadly weapon. Isreal was sentenced in November 1974 to a term of

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20 years' imprisonment. While Isreal was incarcerated for his robbery conviction, he was convicted of manslaughter in the Circuit Court of Cole County for killing a fellow inmate. Isreal was sentenced in January 1978 to ten additional years of imprisonment, to run consecutively to his twenty-year robbery sentence.

Isreal escaped from Missouri custody on June 3, 1978. He apparently escaped while he was in St. Louis on a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum in connection with post-conviction relief proceedings.

Isreal fled to California. On December 11, 1979, he pleaded guilty to murder in Alameda County, California. Isreal was given a sentence of 25 years to life, "to run immediately and concurrently with the sentence which the defendant is obligated to serve in the State of Missouri."

On February 21, 1980, the Department of Corrections (DOC) sent a warrant to the California prison where Isreal was then incarcerated. The warrant noted that Isreal had escaped from a Missouri penitentiary, and requested that he "be retaken and held to be returned to the said Penitentiary."

Under the California Supreme Court's decision in In re Stoliker, 315 P.2d 12 (Cal. 1957), when a California court orders that a criminal sentence be served concurrently with a sentence imposed by another jurisdiction, California correctional officials are obligated to transfer the defendant to the other jurisdiction, if necessary to permit the defendant to concurrently serve his California and non-California sentences.

Following Isreal's California conviction, California authorities and Isreal began a decades-long effort to have DOC accept Isreal's return to Missouri, so that he could resume service of his Missouri sentences (to which his California sentence was concurrent). As required by Stoliker, California correctional authorities corresponded with DOC beginning in 1980, and offered to transfer Isreal to DOC. Although the DOC's "Order for Arrest of Escaped Prisoner" had asked that "Isreal

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be retaken and held to be returned to the [Missouri State] Penitentiary," for almost forty years the DOC refused California's offers to return Isreal to Missouri custody.

In a November 25, 1998 letter to Isreal, a California correctional official summarized the communications between California and Missouri over the prior two decades:

Warden Ayers is in receipt of your request to transfer to Missouri Department of Corrections. He has asked me to research and respond to your request. On February 8, 1980, a letter was sent at your request to Missouri Department of Corrections requesting transfer so that you could serve your unexpired Missouri State prison term. Missouri State Penitentiary responded on February 21, 1980 and a copy of this response was sent to you. Their response in part was "We do not wish to assume custody of Isreal until such time as he completes his California sentence or can be paroled to our detainer."
Over the years several requests have been sent to Missouri Department of Corrections advising them of your request to be returned to serve the remainder of your term. Each response from Missouri Department of Corrections has been negative. They repeatedly responded that they would accept custody if and when you complete your California sentence or can be paroled to their detainer. Missouri Department of Corrections last responded to your request on August 30, 1996. I have included six letters for your review.

The record contains a similar letter written by California authorities to Isreal in 1994, explaining that Missouri had been asked to take custody of Isreal multiple times, but had consistently refused. The 1994 letter informed Isreal that, despite California authorities' obligation to comply with the Stoliker decision, "California will not just send you to Missouri if Missouri is not willing to accept you."

In an effort to compel DOC to accept his return, Isreal filed a petition seeking habeas relief, or in the alternative a writ of mandamus, in the Circuit Court of Cole County on February 2, 1989. Isreal requested that the circuit court order DOC to accept his return. The circuit court denied relief, finding that Isreal's writ petition was "frivolous and malicious":

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To the extent the petition is a request for any habeas corpus the same is denied for the reason that the movant is not within the geographic jurisdiction of this court; to the extent it is a petition for writ of mandamus, permission to proceed as a poor person is denied for the reason that the same sets forth no set of facts which, if true, entitle him to such writ; further the petition is found to be frivolous and malicious, in that movant's likelihood for success in the prosecution of this case is slight at best.

On May 16, 1989, the Missouri Supreme Court likewise denied Isreal relief by way of a writ of habeas corpus, mandamus, or prohibition.

Isreal filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California state courts, which was denied both in the Superior Court, and by the California Supreme Court.

Having failed to obtain relief from the Missouri and California state courts, Isreal then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in 1997. The District Court denied Isreal's petition.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of habeas relief. Isreal v. Marshall, 125 F.3d 837 (9th Cir. 1997). The Ninth Circuit noted that, consistent with Stoliker, California authorities had offered to transfer Isreal to Missouri, but that "Missouri flatly refused to accept appellant into custody under any circumstances." Id. at 840. The Court also noted that "Missouri's refusal to accept custody effectively renders [Isreal's] California and Missouri sentences consecutive." Id. at 839.

The Ninth Circuit's opinion assumed that Isreal's "right to be tendered to Missouri for transfer" under Stoliker created a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Id. The Court found, however, that Isreal had been given the process that was due, since California authorities had offered to return Isreal to Missouri. Id. at 840. The Court noted that, in light of Missouri's refusal to accept him, "there appears to have been nothing else California could have done in order to facilitate [Isreal's] return to Missouri." Id. The Ninth Circuit's opinion emphasized

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that "[w]e do not address whether Missouri's refusal to accept [Isreal] violated his rights under Missouri law or whether any such violation would pose federal constitutional problems." Id. at 839 n.1.[1]

In connection with his federal habeas petition, Isreal's counsel obtained an affidavit from Donna Coleman, who was then DOC's General Counsel. Coleman's affidavit stated that "Missouri does not have a specialized procedure in place to respond to a request from California for a so-called 'Stoliker transfer.'" Coleman's affidavit stated that "[o]ut-of-state prisoners who have time remaining on a Missouri sentence are not normally accepted by Missouri until paroled from the other jurisdiction." Despite this general practice, Coleman also stated that,

[a]lthough no formal policy exists at this time to respond to a Stoliker request, further review by the appropriate decision-making bodies in Missouri may result in a determination that Missouri would be willing to accept an inmate prior to parole eligibility in California, in order to permit concurrent service of the California term.

Coleman's affidavit did not describe the substantive standards which "the appropriate decision-making bodies in Missouri" would apply in deciding whether to accept an out-of-state prisoner's return. Although an ad hoc process to accept the return of prisoners like Isreal apparently existed, Coleman stated that "[t]o my knowledge, no such review has been undertaken regarding Michael Isreal" - despite California's repeated requests that Missouri accept Isreal's return, and despite the litigation commenced by Isreal in state and federal courts in Missouri and California.

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The record reflects that California authorities made at least one more request that Missouri accept Isreal's return, in 2004. In a responsive letter on December 28, 2004, DOC Legal Counsel Susan K. Glass continued Missouri's twenty-five-year history of declining custody:

Please be advised that the State of Missouri will accept custody of this offender if and when California paroles or discharges Mr. Isreal to the Missouri detainer. The State of Missouri has no interest in
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