Man wants to sue for being kept in jail too long

A man imprisoned in Minnesota for more than three years longer than his original sentence is trying to sue the Department of Corrections.

But there's no state law LaVelle Bible can cite for his lawsuit, an unusual dilemma that legal scholars and lawmakers say Minnesota should fix.

In 2004 when he was 34, Bible was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to serve 53 months in prison. He completed his sentence in 2008, but was repeatedly sent back to prison for multiple violations of his parole, according to court records.

In 2011, a Chisago County judge ruled that the Minnesota Department of Corrections violated the law and ordered officials to release Bible from Rush City prison.

In Minnesota, offenders serve two-thirds of their sentences in prison and one-third on a form of parole called supervised release. As a convicted sex offender, Bible was ordered to serve an extra term of parole called conditional release.

Bible's lawyer, Terry Duggins, said corrections officials kept adding more time to his sentence each time he violated the terms of his conditional release.

"They just kept adding it on, 180 days here, 365 days here," Duggins said. "And all of that...1,115 days was beyond the end date of his original sentence. And that's where the problem was."

In 2010 the state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of another Minnesota inmate who challenged similar punishments by the corrections department. The ruling said the state had to allow offenders to serve supervised and conditional release terms one after the other, instead of concurrently as corrections officials did in Bible's case.

Duggins contends that Bible couldn't be punished for violating conditional release when he hadn't technically served it.

According to court records, Bible was sent back to prison four times, including twice for failing to complete treatment programs as well as other violations. Records also show that corrections officials raised his re-offender risk level to its highest point, Level III, after they discovered Bible was living with a 13-year-old girl.

However, in his ruling Chisago County District Judge Todd Schoffelman wrote those violations didn't justify the extended prison time.

"Although the conditions of supervised release and conditional release may be similar or identical, a violation of supervised release does not support a sanction that extends beyond the completion of the supervised release term and beyond the completion of the sentence imposed," Schoffelman wrote in the order granting Bible's request for release in September 2011.

Duggins would like someone at the Department of Corrections to be held accountable — and compensate Bible for the extra time he served.

But that's easier said than done, William Mitchell College of Law professor Brad Colbert said.

"Because you just can't show there was a mistake," Colbert said. "You generally have to show something — especially for a Constitutional claim — is more than a mistake."

Colbert said the length of time Bible spent in prison past his sentence is very unusual.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sarah Latuseck declined to comment, saying the department doesn't talk about pending litigation. However, in court documents, corrections officials argued that the department's actions were lawful and appropriate.

Even if Bible could prove the state made a mistake, there's no state law to allow him to sue.

In the last Legislative session, state lawmakers passed a law allowing for compensation for people imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. But the law doesn't apply to people like Bible who committed a crime, but spent too much time in prison.

"I think we ought to have some kind of system set up to recognize those situations," said state Sen. Ron Latz , chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said he would support a law that makes some type of system of redress for inmates who — through a clerical error or no fault of their own — overstay their prison sentences.

"The trick would be distinguishing between those kind of technical errors in the system, as opposed to differences of legal interpretation about the application of the law or something of that nature," he said.

Latz's Republican colleague on the Judiciary Committee, state Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, agrees that the state should provide an avenue for people like Bible to be compensated.

Limmer, a former Hennepin County Corrections Officer, said corrections officials do their best to follow the law. But he said the buck stops with the state.

"We're the ones who are responsible for releasing that individual according to the court order that put him there," he said.

Bible has another option. He can file a claim with the Joint House-Senate Subcommittee on Claims. In 2010, the committee awarded William Howard Heins more than $34,000 for lost wages after a sentencing error left him incarcerated for more than a year longer than his original sentence.

It is not clear how many others like Bible were kept in prison longer than their sentences.

In a court memorandum filed earlier this year the state Attorney General's office said there were 50 offenders eligible to be released based on the court ruling used to free Bible in 2011.

According to an online jail roster, Bible currently is being held in the Hennepin County Jail on burglary charges.

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