State of Minnesota, ex rel. Antwone Ford, Appellant,
Paul Schnell, Commissioner of Corrections, Respondent.
of Appeals, Office of Appellate Courts
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Amy
Lawler, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for
Ellison, Attorney General, Rachel E. Bell-Munger, Kelly S.
Kemp, Assistant Attorneys General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for
claims presented by appellant's petition for a writ of
habeas corpus are justiciable.
writ of habeas corpus is an appropriate procedural remedy
when an agency fails to adhere to binding judicial precedent
and, as a result, restrains a petitioner's liberty.
Because the Department of Corrections failed to adhere to the
rule of law announced in State ex rel. Marlowe v.
Fabian, 755 N.W.2d 792 (Minn.App. 2008), the district
court properly granted the writ and imposed an appropriate
Antwone Ford petitioned the district court for a writ of
habeas corpus, asserting that respondent Commissioner of
Corrections unlawfully extended his incarceration for
approximately 16 months after his conditional-release term
began. Specifically, Ford asserted that the Department of
Corrections (Department) failed to approve housing in a
community in which he could be supervised. Following an
evidentiary hearing, the district court determined that the
Department failed to adhere to the law announced in State
ex rel. Marlowe v. Fabian, 755 N.W.2d 792 (Minn.App.
2008), and granted Ford's petition for a writ, ordering
the Department to either approve housing for Ford or modify
the terms of his conditional release. The court of appeals
vacated the district court's order as moot. State ex
rel. Ford v. Roy, No. A17-1895, 2018 WL 3097717, at *8
(Minn.App. June 25, 2018). Because we conclude that
Ford's claims are justiciable, and to provide Ford with
timely relief, we issued an order reversing the court of
appeals and reinstating the district court's order.
State ex rel. Ford v. Schnell, No. A17-1895, Order
at 2-3 (Minn. filed May 10, 2019). The following opinion sets
forth the basis for our decision.
appeal raises issues regarding the supervision of offenders
in the community. Generally, a prison sentence in Minnesota
consists of two terms. The "term of imprisonment"
is typically the first two-thirds of the sentence, with a
supervised-release term comprising the remaining one-third of
the sentence. See Minn. Stat. § 244.101, subd.
1 (2018); see also Heilman v. Courtney, 926 N.W.2d
387, 394 (Minn. 2019) (explaining that "felons generally
serve sentences in two parts"). Certain classes of
offenders, including some sex offenders, also must complete
an additional term of "conditional release."
See, e.g., Minn. Stat. § 609.3455, subds. 6-7
(2018). "[C]onditional release of sex offenders is
governed by provisions relating to supervised release."
Id., subd. 8(a) (2018); see also State ex rel.
Duncan v. Roy, 887 N.W.2d 271, 272 n.1 (Minn. 2016)
("Functionally, conditional release is identical to
supervised release."). If an inmate violates the release
conditions, which are imposed by the Department, that release
can be revoked and the offender returned to prison. Minn.
Stat. § 244.05, subd. 3(2) (2018).
on supervised or conditional release, an offender is on some
form of supervision, either standard or intensive. See
id., subd. 6(a) (2018). If an offender is designated as
a Level III sex offender, intensive supervised release is
required. Id. This form of supervision involves
rigorous conditions, ranging from electronic surveillance,
house arrest, and curfew conditions, to random checks,
searches, and drug tests, to prohibitions on internet access
or access to social media. See id., subd. 6(b)-(c)
(2018). Offenders subject to intensive supervised release
must have an approved residence during the release term
because house-arrest conditions are necessary. Accordingly,
the Department's policies require offenders on intensive
supervised release to reside in an agent-approved residence.
turn to the facts of Ford's case.
2008, Ford was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual
conduct, see Minn. Stat. § 609.344, subd. 1(b)
(2006), in Blue Earth County. The district court sentenced
Ford to three years of imprisonment, stayed for 15 years, and
imposed a 5-year conditional-release term. In 2013,
Ford's sentence was executed, and he was committed to the
custody of the Department. In January 2014, the Department placed
Ford on supervised release. At first he lived in a
Department-funded residence in Mankato, but within a few
months, he relocated to a private residence.
August 2014, the Department revoked Ford's supervised
release for a violation of his release conditions. His
supervised-release term expired in February 2015, and he
became eligible for conditional release. On the day Ford was
released from prison, however, he was transferred to the Blue
Earth County jail because he did not have approved housing in
Blue Earth County. Although Ford searched for housing and
made phone calls from the jail, he was unable to find
approved housing. The Department revoked his release for 90
days and Ford was returned to prison.
2015, the Department assigned Ford to another 90 days of
incarceration because he still did not have approved housing
in Blue Earth County. Although Ford requested a placement in
Ramsey County, the county declined to provide courtesy
supervision due to Ford's lack of historical ties to that
August 2015, Ford was released from prison to the Renville
County jail for chemical dependency treatment, which he
completed at the end of October 2015. He was returned to
prison for 179 days because he still did not have approved
housing in Blue Earth County. During this period of time, the
Department unsuccessfully attempted to arrange several
housing placements for Ford, including with his aunt in
Wisconsin, his previous landlord in Mankato, his mother and
sister in Fargo, and his brother in Moorhead. Ultimately, the
Department concluded that Ford's status as a Level III
sex offender made finding approved housing options difficult.
April 2016, the Department extended Ford's incarceration
by another 150 days. Two possible housing placements in
Ramsey County were rejected due to "lack of ties and a
concentration of [level-three] offenders" in the area.
The Department was aware that Ford wished to return to the
residence in Mankato, but a Mankato city ordinance prevented
2016, Ford petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in district
court, arguing that the Department unlawfully extended his
incarceration based on an illegal city ordinance. The
district court denied Ford's petition because he did not,
and could not, join the City of Mankato as a party to the
habeas petition. Ford appealed.
court of appeals reversed. State ex rel. Ford v.
Roy, No. A16-1769, Order (Minn.App. filed Feb. 1, 2017).
Relying on State ex rel. Marlowe v. Fabian, 755
N.W.2d 792, 795 (Minn.App. 2008), the court of appeals
concluded that although the Department was not required to
find approved housing for Ford, it was required to provide
assistance, which may require consideration of housing
options for Ford in counties other than Blue Earth County.
Roy, No. A16-1769, Order at 4. The court of appeals
remanded the case to the district court "to permit the
[Department] to develop the record with respect to what other
housing options, including halfway houses, are available to
Ford," and warned that if no suitable housing options
are available, the Department was "required to
consider restructuring the conditions of
release." Id. (emphasis added). The
Department did not petition for our review.
February 22, 2017, two days before the remanded case was
scheduled for a hearing and two years after Ford began his
conditional-release term, the Department released Ford from
incarceration to Alpha House, a residential sex offender
treatment program and residence in Hennepin County. The
Department argued that Ford's release to Alpha House made
his request for habeas corpus relief moot. Ford asserted that
his habeas petition was not moot because the district court
should still determine whether the Department "must
consider restructuring the conditions of release to allow him
to be released either to the [intensive supervised release]
house in Mankato or to any other suitable residence
regardless of [the] county." The district court
ultimately proceeded with the evidentiary hearing based on
the instructions from the court of appeals. Moreover,
Ford's release to Alpha House, which the district court
did not consider to be a permanent residence, did not make
Ford's claims moot. The district court explained:
It is unclear how long [Ford] will be permitted to remain
there; it is also unclear what will happen to him
when he can no longer remain there. Because he
remains subject to being re-incarcerated for lack of approved
housing, and because his present housing situation is
contingent, uncertain, and temporary at best, the question of
what the ...