Pennsylvania to stay proceedings in the federal habeas corpus action until the New Jersey court had acted.
On December 9, 1980, petitioner filed an amended petition for habeas corpus with the District Court in Pennsylvania stating that his New Jersey state court petition for a writ of habeas corpus petition had been denied.
On February 3, 1981, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania transferred the case to this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406. After consideration by United States Magistrate Devine and then by me, I ruled in an unpublished opinion that petitioner had not exhausted his state remedies and I stayed the action, as mentioned above, until completion of proceedings in the state courts. Only the most indefatigable litigant would have pursued his remedy with the persistence demonstrated by petitioner.
Petitioner argues that the notice provisions of Article III(a) were satisfied by his April 13, 1979 letter to the Mercer County Prosecutor taken in conjunction with the Mercer County Probation Office's May 23, 1979 reply letter which demonstrated that a New Jersey Superior Court Judge had been notified of petitioner's outstanding detainer and request for hearing. Petitioner submits that the 180 day statutory period commenced on July 13, 1979, the date of his sentencing, since he was then serving a term of imprisonment as required by Article III of the Agreement. Petitioner requests that he be relieved from the effect of his detainer and of the conviction on the underlying probation violation charge since the State failed to schedule a hearing by January 9, 1980, 180 days after his sentencing date.
The State argues that the 180 day period commenced December 6, 1979 when the petitioner executed Form II under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers formally requesting transfer to Mercer County to resolve the probation violation charge. The State submits that the 180 day period was tolled 91 days later, since petitioner refused to sign transfer papers and filed a habeas corpus petition seeking dismissal of his detainer on that date. Therefore, the State maintains that no violation of petitioner's rights under the Agreement occurred.
Ordinarily, a prisoner must comply with all the formal prerequisites of Article III to trigger the Agreement's 180 day period. The process is begun when the official having custody of a prisoner "promptly informs" the prisoner of any detainers lodged against him and of his right to request final disposition of the outstanding charges. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(c). A prisoner must then notify his custodian that he wishes final disposition of the charge, and the custodian must notify all appropriate prosecuting officers and courts in the jurisdiction in which the prisoner is initiating proceedings of the prisoner's request for final disposition. N.J.S.A. 2A:159-3(d). The statute further provides that any notification will be accompanied with a certificate from the petitioner's custodian stating the prisoner's term of commitment, time already served on the sentence, amount of good time earned, and parole eligibility. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a). With the receipt of this formal request, the charging state is put on notice that it has 180 days to bring the defendant to trial on the untried indictment, information, or complaint. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a).
However, in the unusual circumstances of this case, petitioner was misled and given inaccurate information regarding the action he should take with respect to his outstanding detainer by the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, the Superior Court of New Jersey in Mercer County, and the Mercer County Probation Office, which was acting upon instructions of the court. Petitioner relied on their advice and followed their instructions carefully. The Pennsylvania prison authorities did not notify the petitioner of his rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainer until July or August 1979, after the petitioner had already corresponded with the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office and the Mercer County Probation Office and followed, to his detriment, the advice they gave.
The defendant State of New Jersey cites several cases for the proposition that the 180 day period commences only upon a prisoner's technical compliance with the Agreement's requirements. State v. Ternaku, 156 N.J. Super. 30, 34, 383 A.2d 437 (App. Div.), cert. denied, 77 N.J. 479, 391 A.2d 494 (1978); Gray v. Benson, 443 F. Supp. 1284 (D. Kan. 1978); People v. Primmer, 59 App. Div.2d 221, 399 N.Y.S.2d 478 (App. Div.), aff'd, 46 N.Y.2d 1048, 416 N.Y.S.2d 548, 389 N.E.2d 1070 (1977); People v. Daily, 46 Ill. App.3d 195, 360 N.E.2d 1131, 4 Ill. Dec. 756 (Ill. App. 1972).
However, none of these cases involved a prisoner who received inaccurate or misleading information from duly constituted state authorities regarding the disposition of outstanding detainers. In fact, in People v. Daily, supra, the court stated, in dictum, that courts require only a good faith, diligent effort by the prisoner to invoke the Interstate Agreement on Detainers when his action is the result of mistake or misguidance by the officials involved. Id. 360 N.E.2d at 1137. Likewise, the court in Pittman v. State, 301 A.2d 509 (Del. Sup. Ct. 1973), noted that the "burden of compliance with the procedural requirements of [the Agreement] rests upon the party states and their agents; the prisoner, who is to benefit by this statute, is not to be held accountable for official administrative errors which deprive him of that benefit." Id. at 514.
Federal courts have also adopted the philosophy that technical compliance is unnecessary if, through no fault of his own, a petitioner fails to meet all the Article III requirements.
In United States v. Hutchins, 489 F. Supp. 710 (N.D. Ind. 1980), the petitioner, after being advised by a United States Marshal of his rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, made a request for final disposition of his detainer to the Marshal rather than to his custodian as required by Article III(b). The Marshal erroneously notified only the United States Attorney's Office and not the United States District Court of petitioner's request. In addition, the petitioner made the request for disposition before he was serving a term of imprisonment as required by the Agreement. The court found that the petitioner nevertheless fulfilled his obligations under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers stating that "it would be asking entirely too much to require a prisoner incorrectly notified of his rights by the wrong person at the wrong time, yet seeking to assert his right in the manner expressly provided by that person to know that his actions do not fit the letter of the statute under which he asserts his rights." Id. at 716. The court stated that where a prisoner is "led to believe that he has made an effective demand for final disposition of pending charges," the fact that the request was made prior to sentencing does not negate the effect of the notice, but only means that the 180 day period commences once the prisoner is sentenced. Id. at 715. To hold otherwise, the court asserted, would undercut the purposes of the Agreement and the mandate that a court liberally construe the Agreement so as to effectuate its purposes. Id. at 714.
In Schofs v. Warden, 509 F. Supp. 78 (E.D. Ky. 1981), the court held that since the petitioner failed to receive the appropriate forms, through no fault of his own, his letters sent directly to the clerk and the state attorney's office satisfied the Interstate Agreement on Detainers even though the literal terms of the Act were not met. Id. at 82.
Finally, in Beebe v. Vaughn, 430 F. Supp. 1220 (D. Del. 1977), the court held that strict compliance was necessary under the Agreement, noting that they were not examining a case in which a petitioner alleges that the state authorities were responsible for a "procedural default" under the Agreement. Id. at 1224.
In the instant case, petitioner should not be penalized for following the instructions he received from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, the New Jersey Superior Court and the Mercer County Probation Office.
The facts of this case must be viewed in light of the Agreement's purpose of expeditiously disposing of outstanding detainers and determining an inmate's proper status under all detainers. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1. I further note that the Agreement must be construed liberally to effectuate its purpose, N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-9, and that the Supreme Court has found that a primary purpose of the Agreement is to protect prisoners against whom detainers are outstanding. Cuyler v. Adams, 449 U.S. 433, 449, 66 L. Ed. 2d 641, 101 S. Ct. 703 (1981).
I hold that petitioner gave notice to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office on April 13, 1979 when he expressed his desire to resolve his outstanding detainer even though the petitioner did not mention the Interstate Agreement on Detainers by name. Petitioner gave notice to the Superior Court of New Jersey by at least May 23, 1979 when it became clear in Probation Officer Hughes' reply letter that Judge Moore of the Superior Court was informed of petitioner's outstanding detainer. However, the 180 day period was not triggered until July 13, 1979, the date of petitioner's sentencing because the petitioner was not serving a term of imprisonment until that date.
Since the State did not fulfill its obligation to hear the underlying charges of petitioner's detainer by January 9, 1980, 180 days after petitioner notified the proper authorities, I find that the State violated petitioner's rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1, et seq. His conviction for violation of probation is a nullity and a writ will issue freeing him from the effect of such conviction.
Petitioner's attorneys are requested to submit an appropriate form of order or writ.
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