Garlotte v. Fordice, 515 U.S. 39 (1995)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 94-6790. Argued April 24, 1995—Decided May 30, 1995

A Mississippi trial court ordered that petitioner Garlotte serve, consecutively, a 3-year prison sentence on a marijuana conviction, followed by concurrent life sentences on two murder convictions. State law required Garlotte to serve at least 10 months on the first sentence and 10 years on the concurrent sentences. Garlotte unsuccessfully sought state postconviction collateral relief on the marijuana conviction. By the time those proceedings ended, he had completed the period of incarceration set for the marijuana offense, and had commenced serving the life sentences. The Federal District Court denied his subsequent federal habeas petition on the merits, but the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for want of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals adopted the State's position that Garlotte had already served out the prison time imposed for the marijuana conviction and, therefore, was no longer "in custody" under the conviction within the meaning of the federal habeas statute, 28 U. S. C. 2254(a). The court rejected Garlotte's argument that he remained "in custody" because the marijuana conviction continued to postpone the date on which he would be eligible for parole.

Held: Garlotte was "in custody" under his marijuana conviction when he filed his federal habeas petition. Pp. 43-47. (a) In Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U. S. 54, this Court allowed two prisoners incarcerated under consecutive sentences to apply for federal habeas relief from sentences they had not yet begun to serve. Viewing consecutive sentences in the aggregate, the Court held that a prisoner serving consecutive sentences is "in custody" under any one of them for purposes of the habeas statute. A different construction of the statutory term "in custody" will not be adopted here simply because the sentence imposed under the challenged conviction lies in the past rather than in the future. Maleng v. Cook, 490 U. S. 488—in which the Court held that a habeas petitioner could not challenge a conviction after the sentence imposed for it had fully expired—does not control this case, for the habeas petitioner in Maleng, unlike Garlotte, was not serving consecutive sentences. Pp. 43-46. (b) Allowing a habeas attack on a sentence nominally completed is unlikely to encourage delay in the assertion of habeas challenges. A


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