Maleng v. Cook
490 U.S. 488 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488 (1989)

Maleng v. Cook

No. 88-357

Argued March 27, 1989

Decided May 15, 1989

490 U.S. 488

Syllabus

As the result of a 1958 conviction in a Washington state court, respondent Cook served a sentence that expired by its terms in 1978. Subsequently, he was convicted of other state crimes, and, in 1978, he was sentenced to two life terms and one 10-year term. Under state law, the 1958 conviction will increase by several years the mandatory minimum term that he will have to serve on his 1978 sentences. He is currently serving a term in federal prison for certain federal crimes, and will begin serving his 1978 state sentences when his federal prison term expires. While in federal prison, Cook filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus relief in the Federal District Court, alleging that his 1958 conviction was invalid, and thus had been used illegally to enhance the 1978 sentences which he had not yet begun to serve. The court dismissed the petition, holding that, because the 1958 sentence had expired, Cook was not "in custody" -- as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3) -- for the purposes of a habeas attack on the 1958 conviction. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that he was "in custody" on the 1958 conviction because it had been used to enhance his 1978 sentences.

Held: Cook is not presently "in custody" under the 1958 sentence, but he is "in custody" under the 1978 sentences. Although a prisoner need not be physically confined in order to challenge his sentence on habeas corpus, once a sentence has completely expired, the possibility that the prior conviction will be used to enhance the sentences imposed for any subsequent convictions is not itself sufficient to render an individual "in custody." See Carafas v. LaVallee,391 U. S. 234. However, Cook can challenge the 1978 sentences. While he is not physically confined under those sentences, the fact that the State has placed a detainer with the federal authorities to ensure that he will be returned to the State authorities at the conclusion of his federal sentence is sufficient to put him "in custody" for habeas purposes. See Peyton v. Rowe,391 U. S. 54; Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky,410 U. S. 484. And Cook's habeas petition, construed with the deference to which pro se litigants are entitled, can be read as asserting a challenge to the 1978 sentences as enhanced by the allegedly invalid prior conviction.

847 F.2d 616, affirmed.

Page 490 U. S. 489

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