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Valerjo-Gonzales v. Jarrett

Supreme Court of Montana

December 28, 2017

JASON JARRETT, in his official capacity as acting Jail Administrator for Gallatin County, Respondent,


         This matter comes before the Court on a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Arturo Valerio-Gonzales. Valerio-Gonzales challenges the Gallatin County Detention Center's authority to hold him in custody on an "immigration detainer" for civil immigration purposes.

         Valerio-Gonzales was arrested in Gallatin County in June 2017 for misdemeanor sexual assault. On the day of his arrest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-sent Form I-247A, "Immigration Detainer - Notice of Action" (Detainer) to the Gallatin County Detention Center. The Detainer stated, "DHS has determined that probable cause exists that [Valerio-Gonzales] is a removable alien." It requested the Detention Center to notify DHS prior to releasing Valerio-Gonzales from custody and to "[m]aintain custody of the alien for a period not to exceed 48 hours beyond the time when he/she would otherwise have been released from your custody to allow DHS to assume custody." The Detention Center has a voluntary policy of complying with immigration detainers and holding inmates for up to 48 hours after they otherwise would be released.

         Valerio-Gonzales pleaded not guilty to his sexual assault charge, and the Justice Court ordered a $5, 000 bail. Valerio-Gonzales declined to post bail, apparently out of concern that, upon doing so, he would promptly be transferred to DHS custody.

         On August 10, 2017, Valerio-Gonzales filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the District Court, challenging the legality of his Detainer. The District Court held a hearing and denied the Petition on October 5, 2017. Valerio-Gonzales then filed his Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court on November 7, 2017. On December 6, 2017, while the petition before this Court was pending, the Justice Court ordered sua sponte-over Valerio-Gonzales's and the County Attorney's objections-Valerio-Gonzales's release on his own recognizance. Shortly after that order, Valerio-Gonzales was taken in to DHS custody, where he remains.

         Respondent Jason Jarrett filed a motion to dismiss this Petition as moot, because Valerio-Gonzales is no longer in the Detention Center's custody. Valerio-Gonzales filed a response to the motion to dismiss, urging the Court to consider the merits of his Petition on the ground that the matter is capable of repetition but evading review. A coalition led by the ACLU of Montana Foundation, Inc., and a group of law professors filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the merits of Valerio-Gonzales's Petition. The Montana Attorney General and the United States of America filed amicus briefs in opposition.

         "[E]very person imprisoned or otherwise restrained of liberty within this state may prosecute a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the cause of imprisonment or restraint and, if illegal, to be delivered from the imprisonment or restraint." Section 46-22-101(1), MCA. "The purpose of a writ of habeas corpus is to determine the legality or illegality of the restraint alleged to be exercised. It is available only to those persons, or on behalf of those persons, unlawfully imprisoned or restrained of their liberty, and is independent of the legal proceeding under which the detention is sought to be justified." Lott v. State, 2006 MT 279, ¶ 9, 334 Mont. 270, 150 P.3d 337 (quoting August v. Burns, 79 Mont. 198, 213, 255 P. 737, 741 (1927)).

         "A question is moot when the court cannot grant effective relief." Sebastian v. Mahoney, 2001 MT 88, ¶ 7, 305 Mont. 158, 25 P.3d 163 (citation and internal quotations omitted). This Court has routinely declined petitions for writs of habeas corpus as moot "when the petitioner has been released from custody or released on parole during the pendency of the action." Sebastian, ¶ 7 (citing State v. Sor-Lokken, 247 Mont. 343, 351, 805 P.2d 1367, 1373 (1991); Quigg v. Crist, 177 Mont. 134, 136, 580 P.2d 921, 923 (1978)).

         The sole controversy raised in this Petition was the legality of the Detention Center's confinement of Valerio-Gonzales in compliance with the immigration detainer. Once Valerio-Gonzales was transferred to DHS custody, he was no longer in the custody of the Detention Center. The relief Valerio-Gonzales sought in his petition was for this Court to "order his release from [the Gallatin County Detention Center] notwithstanding the federal immigration detention request once he posts bail." The Detention Center is no longer holding him. Because Valerio-Gonzales is not "unlawfully imprisoned or restrained" of his liberty by the Detention Center, this Court cannot grant effective relief on his Petition. See Lott, ¶ 9; Sebastian, ¶ 7. His Petition is therefore moot. See Sebastian, ¶ 7.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus is DISMISSED.

         The Clerk is directed to provide copies of this Order to ...

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