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Jail’s classification system doesn’t trump judge’s Huber order

State ex rel. Jamie A. Coogan v. Steven R. Michek, Sheriff, Iowa County, 2020 WI App 37; case activity (including briefs)

A jail’s classification system can’t supersede a sentencing judge’s grant of Huber release.

Jails are required to have a classification system, § 302.36, but that statute says precious little about what the system has to look like, and nothing at all about Huber release under § 303.08. Yet, under Iowa County Jail’s classification system, an inmate given “maximum” custody status can’t get Huber release, period. Coogan, who was doing a 12-month stint in the jail with Huber privileges, earned a maximum custody rating after getting a major disciplinary ticket. (¶¶3-5).

The Huber statute allows a sheriff to deny release for up to 5 days if the inmate violates a jail rule, § 303.08(10), or to ask the sentencing judge to withdraw Huber privileges, § 303.08(2). But the jail didn’t avail itself of these remedies in Coogan’s case; it simply denied Huber release to Coogan so long as he was at maximum custody status. And that the jail cannot do, says the court of appeals:

¶18     …[W]e conclude based on a plain language interpretation of the Huber Law that, putting aside any legitimate temporary suspension, the Sheriff could not disregard the court order granting Coogan Huber release based on the operation of the Sheriff’s classification system.

¶19     To begin, the only reasonable interpretation of subsections (1), (1m), and (2) of Wis. Stat. § 303.08 is that it rests solely within the discretion of the sentencing court whether to “expressly grant” Huber release to a defendant headed for jail, or else to deny Huber release through silence on the topic. The Sheriff does not dispute this much, nor could he in light of the language in those statutory subsections that “the court” grants the Huber privilege.

¶20     Further, Wis. Stat. § 303.08(2) provides detailed direction that, when contrasted with a sheriff’s ability to merely temporarily suspend the privilege under § 303.08(10), the sentencing court alone decides who is entitled to the Huber privilege. First, with exceptions not pertinent here, a defendant “may petition the court for such privilege at the time of sentence or thereafter, and in the discretion of the court may renew” the petition. Sec. 303.08(2). Second, as already noted above, the “court may withdraw the privilege at any time by order entered with or without notice.” Id. These provisions reinforce the concept that the decision of whether to grant the privilege remains with the court even after sentencing, and does not shift to the sheriff. Sheriffs have authority only to temporarily suspend the privilege under circumstances defined by the legislature.

¶21     Various other detailed provisions set forth the specific responsibilities that sheriffs have in connection with Huber, and none suggest that any sheriff responsibility includes disregarding a court-granted privilege, putting aside the temporary suspension exception. …. In line with these other specific directions for sheriffs, the Huber Law also details the only way in which a sheriff may interfere with (by temporarily suspending) a court order granting Huber release. Indeed, the specific, temporary suspension exception in § 303.08(10) would make no sense if the legislature intended that sheriffs could respond to inmate conduct by generally denying Huber release, whether through operation of an inmate classification system created by a sheriff or through some other discretionary decision.

The court also rejects the sheriff’s apparent claim that, as the constitutional officer responsible for operating the jail, and the “amplification” of that duty in § 59.27(1), the sheriff has sweeping authority over all aspects of inmate management and conduct:

¶35     …. Both the constitutional authority referenced in Kocken [v. Wis. Council 40, AFSCME, 2007 WI 72, 301 Wis. 2d 266, 732 N.W.2d 838] and a plain language interpretation of Wis. Stat. § 59.27(1) stand for the same principle: sheriffs have the duty to “take the charge and custody of the jail” (that is, take responsibility for and care of the jail) and “the persons in the jail.” The Sheriff fails to explain how the division of responsibilities set forth in the Huber Law impinges on this duty. The Sheriff is no less responsible for the “charge and custody” of the jail and “the persons in the jail” when some inmates are granted Huber release by a sentencing court. The Sheriff fails to develop an argument that he cannot properly execute his § 59.27(1) duty as to a particular inmate as soon as the inmate walks out of the jail on a Huber release ordered by the sentencing court simply because the Sheriff has concerns about release. This is because the Sheriff’s recourse under the Huber Law, as we have explained, is to use the temporary suspension exception (if a rule has been violated) or to request Huber release withdrawal, or both.

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