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Murrell v. Bottom

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 23, 2017

DURAND EDWARD MURRELL APPELLANT
v.
DON BOTTOM, WARDEN NORTHPOINT TRAINING CENTER APPELLEE

         ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-001651-MR BOYLE CIRCUIT COURT NO. 15-CI-00229

         AFFIRMING ON OTHER GROUNDS

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Timothy G. Arnold

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Courtney J. Hightower

          OPINION

          CUNNINGHAM JUSTICE

         In May of 2015, Appellant, Durand Edward Murrell, then a prisoner at the Northpoint Training Center, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Boyle Circuit Court against Warden Don Bottom.

         In 1993, a Jefferson Circuit Court sentenced Appellant to a total of forty-two years' imprisonment for seventeen counts of first-degree robbery, six counts of second-degree wanton endangerment of a police officer, and one count each of third-degree assault of a police officer and first-degree escape. In 1994, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky sentenced Appellant to 152 months' incarceration for one count each of armed bank robbery, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, and carjacking. Appellant's federal sentence was ordered to be served consecutively to his state sentence. At the time of Appellant's federal sentencing, he was in the custody of the Kentucky Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Consequently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("FBOF') issued a detainer in order to obtain custody upon Appellant's release from state custody.

         On January 18, 2001, the Kentucky Parole Board ("KPB") paroled Appellant to his federal detainer. Appellant was then transferred from state custody to federal custody, where he remained for approximately eleven years. On March 31, 2011, FBOP notified DOC in writing of its intent to release Appellant under federal supervision to Dismas Charities of Louisville Halfway House. On September 12, 2012, Appellant was released from federal supervision. Appellant immediately reported to his local Probation and Parole Office and was placed on active state parole supervision.

         On October 24, 2013, after obtaining new criminal charges, the KPB revoked Appellant's parole. Appellant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Boyle Circuit Court after exhausting possible administrative remedies. Appellant's sole ground for his petition was that DOC permanently surrendered jurisdiction over his sentence when it transferred custody to Federal authorities in 2001. Appellee, referring the trial court to Commonwealth v. Marcum, 873 S.W.2d 207 (Ky. 1994), argued that a writ of habeas corpus is only appropriate if the judgment of conviction under which the prisoner is held is void ab initio. Furthermore, Appellee cited the current version of Kentucky Revised Statute ("KRS") 439.340(2) to support his claim that DOC retained jurisdiction over Appellant's sentence. On June 18, 2015, the Boyle Circuit Court accepted Appellee's arguments and issued an order denying Appellant's petition.

         On January 16, 2016, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling. First, the Court of Appeals cited Marcum, and held that "[h]abeas corpus relief is available only for a prisoner who can establish that the judgment by which he is being detained is void ab initio." (Emphasis added). Due to Appellant's inability to demonstrate that his 1993 state convictions were void, the Court of Appeals believed a habeas corpus petition was improper. In further support of its affirmance, the Court of Appeals relied on the current version of KRS 439.340(2), which states that paroling a prisoner to another jurisdiction via detainer "shall not constitute a relinquishment of jurisdiction over the prisoner . . . ." This Court granted discretionary review.

         The facts in this case are not in dispute. For that reason, this Court will conduct a de novo review of the circuit court's legal conclusions in denying Appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus. Commonwealth v. Gaddie, 239 S.W.3d 59, 61 (Ky. 2007).

         A writ of habeas corpus is guaranteed by Section 16 of our Kentucky Constitution. The right is codified in KRS 419.020, which reads that "[t]he writ of habeas corpus shall be issued upon petition on behalf of anyone showing by affidavit probable cause that he is being detained without lawful authority or is being imprisoned when by law he is entitled to bail." It is important to note at this point in our review that Appellant was granted parole in October of 2016. Our analysis, however, does not change. This Court previously acknowledged that the "restraints of parole" are substantial enough "to require the court to consider the merits of the habeas corpus petition." Walters v. Smith, 599 S.W.2d 164, 165 (Ky. 1980) (citing 4 Wharton's Criminal Procedure § 650 (C. Torcia, 12th ed. 1976)).

         Judgment void ab initio

         This Court will first address the trial court's ruling that Appellant's petition must fail as he did not attack his underlying convictions. The Court of Appeals upheld this ruling and stated that "[h]abeas corpus relief is available only for a prisoner who can establish that the judgment by which he is being detained is void ab initio." (Emphasis added). We disagree with both lower courts. Limiting habeas corpus relief to only those individuals being detained by a judgment that is void ab initio is a complete misinterpretation of the law. Our predecessor Court explained that the "primary purpose" of habeas corpus relief is to "determine the legality of the restraint under which a person is held." _ Walters, 599 S.W.2d at 165 (citing Vickery v. Lady,264 S.W.2d 683 (Ky. 1953)). In doing so, this Court has afforded habeas relief to individuals whose underlying judgment is perfectly valid. Brock v. Sowders,610 S.W.2d 591 (Ky. 1980) (habeas ...


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