Stein v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Post-Conviction Relief
  • Date Filed: 11-18-2011
  • Case #: 10-16527
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wallace for the Court; Circuit Judge S. Thomas and Senior District Judge L. George
  • Full Text Opinion

It is the province of the courts, and not of state agencies, to determine the legality of prison sentences. An interim judicial decision may give a convict a right to have his sentence vacated, but it is the court hearing his case that gives him the right to be released.

In 1997, Alan Stein pled guilty to attempted sexual contact with a minor and received one year in jail and lifetime probation. In February 2006, Mr. Stein was sentenced to ten years in prison for violating the terms of his probation. Stein appealed neither judgment, but did seek post conviction relief of the ten year sentence. While the petition for post conviction relief was pending, the Arizona Supreme Court held in State v. Peek, that the statute which Stein violated did not authorize lifetime probation. The parties agreed that five years was the maximum length of probation. As a result, Stein spent three years in prison pursuant to an erroneous sentence. Mr. Stein brought suit against the State of Arizona, Dept. of Corrections ("DOC"), and certain employees for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a § 1983 claim. The district court granted the defendant’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Stein appealed the dismissal of the negligence claim and §1983 claim. Stein argues that when the DOC takes custody of a convict they have a duty to ensure that the sentence is legal. The Ninth Circuit concluded that it is the duty of the court to impose a sentencing order, and the DOC to carry out the order. DOC, as an executive agency, does not have the authority or duty to ensure that judicial orders comply with the law. The Court found against Stein’s § 1983 claim for cruel and unusual punishment and violation of due process. The Court found no due process violation, as Stein was never denied an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. Stein’s Eighth Amendment right was not violated because the DOC only had the authority to execute sentencing order. The order was valid until the State Court decided Peek, after which Stein's sentence was vacated. AFFIRMED.

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