LOCATION:U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico
DOCKET NO.: 94-6790
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 515 US 39 (1995)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1995
DECIDED: May 30, 1995
Brian D. Boyle – on behalf of the Petitioner
Marvin L. White, Jr. – on behalf of the Respondent
Media for Garlotte v. Fordice
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 30, 1995 in Garlotte v. Fordice
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in number 94-6790 Garlotte against Fordice would be announced by Justice Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
This case concerns the meaning of the words “in custody” as those words are used in the Federal Habeas Corpus statute.
A prisoner, who wants to attack a state conviction as unconstitutional, may do so in Federal Court to a Habeas Corpus petition only if he is still in custody under the conviction.
The petitioner here Harvey Garlotte, plead guilty in a Mississippi State Court in 1985 to a charge of marijuana possession, and two murder charges.
Sentences were imposed in this order.
First, a three year term for the marijuana conviction.
Second, two life terms to run concurrently on the murder charges.
The two life terms were consecutive to that is they were to be served after the three year marijuana term.
Soon after these sentences were imposed, Garlotte commenced attacks on the marijuana conviction in Mississippi state courts.
When his claims were unsuccessful at the state level, he sought federal habeas relief again attacking the marijuana conviction.
By that time however, Garlotte had completed service of the prison period set for the marijuana offence, and had begun serving the life sentences.
The state of Mississippi maintained that because Garlotte has served at the prison term imposed for the marijuana conviction.
He was no longer in custody as required by the Habeas statue.
United States Courts of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the state, and therefore rejected Garlotte’s Habeas petition.
We hold that Garlotte was in custody under the marijuana conviction when he found his federal habeas challenge.
Accordingly, we reverse a decision of the Court of Appeals.
To define in custody, we rely primarily on a 1968 decision of this court Peyton against Rowe.
That case involved two Virginia prisoners, both of them incarcerated under state imposed consecutive sentences.
We allow the prisoners in Peyton to reply for federal habeas relief from sentences they had not yet begun to serve.
We said in Peyton that for purposes of the “in custody” requirement, we review consecutive sentences as a continuous series flowing together as one stream and not as totally discrete units.
The statutory words in custody should not be given a meaning here different from the meaning we gave those words in Peyton simply because the sentence imposed under the challenge conviction lies in the past rather than in the future.
Justice Thomas has filed the dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice joins.