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Conduct credits earned in CDCR cannot be applied to reduce a prisoner’s nonviolent parole eligible date (Prop. 57)

In re Canady (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 25, 2020, No. C089363) 2020 WL 6938325, at *1–3

 Summary: Canady filed a writ of habeas corpus in the superior court seeking early parole consideration under Proposition 57, also known as the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Prop. 57). Canady asserted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) regulation implementing Prop. 57 was inconsistent with the Proposition. The CDCR regulation did not consider conduct credits inmates earned while incarcerated in the calculation of inmates’ nonviolent early parole eligible dates. The superior court agreed with Canady and invalidated the Department’s regulation as contradicting the stated purposes of the Proposition.

The Attorney General appealed from the superior court’s order, arguing that the regulation is consistent with and authorized by the plain language of Prop. 57, which grants broad discretion. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the order.

Conduct Credits in CDCR

 CDCR prisoners may reduce the length of their prison terms by earning conduct credits, including “worktime credit” and “program credit.” (Pen. Code, § 2930 et seq.) Prisoners may earn up to one day of worktime credit for each actual day of incarceration, or a 50 percent reduction in the inmate’s sentence. (§ 2933, subd. (b).) CDCR awards program reductions for participation in academic or vocational programs, vocational training, anger management and social life skills programs, substance abuse programs, and others. (§ 2933.05, subds. (a), (c).) The Legislature limits such conduct credits earned by inmates who have been previously convicted of a serious or violent felony to no more than one-fifth of the total term of imprisonment. (§ 1170.12, subd. (a)(5).) The credits are a privilege, not a right, and they may be “denied or lost” by committing various acts of misconduct while incarcerated. (§§ 2932, 2933, subds. (a), (c), 2933.05, subd. (b).)

County Jail Credits (Pre-sentence credits)

Persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors are awarded credit for time spent in custody before sentencing. (§ 2900.5.) Prisoners may earn credits against their sentences both for actual days spent in custody and additional credits based on their work and good conduct during presentence custody. (§§ 2900.5, subd. (a), 4019.)

The trial court’s determines the dates of custody and the total number of days to be credited. (§ 2900.5, subd. (d).)

When a prisoner sentenced to a determinate term has served that term, or at the expiration of the “term reduced pursuant to Section … 2933 [worktime credit], if applicable, the inmate shall be released on parole.” (§ 3000, subd. (b)(2)(B).)

Proposition 57

In November 2016 California voters passed Proposition 57 amending  section 32 to article I of the California Constitution which provides for early parole consideration for inmates serving prison sentences for nonviolent offenses. The amendment provides: “(a) The following provisions are hereby enacted to enhance public safety, improve rehabilitation, and avoid the release of prisoners by federal court order, notwithstanding anything in this article or any other provision of law: (1) Parole Consideration: Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.  (A) For purposes of this section only, the full term for the primary offense means the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence.

(2) Credit Earning: The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall have authority to award credits earned for good behavior and approved rehabilitative or educational achievements.

(b) The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall adopt regulations in furtherance of these provisions, and the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall certify that these regulations protect and enhance public safety.”

Section 2 of Proposition 57 states its  purposes, as relevant : “1. Protect and enhance public safety.  2. Save money by reducing wasteful spending on prisons.  3. Prevent federal courts from indiscriminately releasing prisoners. 4. Stop the revolving door of crime by emphasizing rehabilitation, especially for juveniles.” (Voter Information Guide, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 8, 2016) text of Prop. 57, § 2, p. 141.)

Department Regulations

CDCR Regulations Implementing Prop 57

CDCR issued final regulations implementing Prop 57. (See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, former §§ 3490, 3491, Register 2018, No. 18 (May 1, 2018).) CDCR  defined the “full term” as used in article I, section 32, subdivisions (a)(1) and (a)(1)(A) as “the actual number of days, months, and years imposed by the sentencing court for the inmate’s primary offense, not including any sentencing credits.” (Tit. 15, § 3490, subd. (e).) The Department defined inmates’ “nonviolent parole eligible” date as: “the date on which a nonviolent offender who is eligible for parole consideration under [Title 15,] section 3491 has served the full term of his or her primary offense, less any actual days served prior to sentencing as ordered by the court under section 2900.5 of the Penal Code and any actual days served in custody between sentencing and the date the inmate is received by the department.” (Id., § 3490, subd. (f).)

CDCR recognized that the sentencing court awards presentence credits, which are applied to reduce an inmate’s aggregate sentence. (Tit. 15, §§ 3043.1, 3371.1, subd. (c)(1)(A).) CDCR awards  postsentence credit for actual days and good conduct days spent in custody after sentencing but before an inmate is formally received by the Department. (Id., § 3371.1, subds. (c)(1)(B)-(C).) The Department also awards credits to inmates consistent with statutory requirements. (Id., § 3043 et seq.) In the case of a determinately sentenced inmate, the Department’s regulations require applying conduct credits to advance an inmate’s release date but not to calculating the inmate’s early parole eligible date. (Id., §§ 3043, subd. (a), 3043.2, subd. (b), 3490, subd. (f).)

Canady’s presentence credits and CDCR credits

Canady was convicted of driving under the influence with priors. (Veh. Code, § 23152, subd. (b).) On August 10, 2017, he was sentenced to four years in prison, which was double the statutory midterm of two years due to his previous conviction for a serious or violent felony. The sentencing court awarded petitioner presentence credit for 136 days, including 68 actual days spent in custody and 68 days of local conduct credit. (§§ 2900.5, subd. (d), 4019).

On September 6, Canady was received by the CDCR and formally began his four-year term. The Department recognized that the court had awarded him 136 days of presentence credit, and it awarded him an additional 26 days actual and 13 days conduct credit for his time served following sentencing but before being received by the CDCR. While incarcerated, the Department continued to award Canady conduct credits to reduce the length of his total sentence. However, the CDCR did not apply Canady’s conduct credits toward the calculation of his nonviolent early parole eligible date. CDCR calculated Canady’s early parole eligible date as June 4, 2019, which was two years from the date petitioner was received by the Department less the 94 actual days–68 presentence days and 26 postsentence days–petitioner spent in custody before being received by the Department.

Canady’s Habeas Corpus Proceedings

 Canady filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court challenging the CDCR calculation of his nonviolent parole eligible date on the grounds that the CDCR calculation denied him the benefit of his conduct credits. The petition was transferred to the Sacramento Superior Court, which issued an order to show cause; CDCR filed a return, and Canady filed a traverse.

The trial court granted the habeas petition, concluding Proposition 57 requires CDCR to apply conduct credits when calculating a prisoner’s early parole eligible date. The court ruled Title 15, section 3490, subdivision (f) is invalid as contrary to the voters’ intent in passing Proposition 57 to the extent it does not require the application of conduct credits towards the prisoner’s nonviolent parole eligible date. It directed the CDCR and the Board of Parole Hearings to stop enforcing Title 15, section 3490, subdivision (f), to promulgate emergency regulations consistent with its ruling, and to recalculate Canady’s  parole

CDCR’s Appeal

CDCR contends Title 15, section 3490, subdivisions (e) and (f) are valid exercises of the rulemaking authority conferred on it by Proposition 57. CDCR argues: (1) Title 15, section 3490, subdivisions (e) and (f) are valid because they are consistent with Proposition 57’s plain text, which requires an inmate to complete the “full term” of his or her “primary offense” before becoming eligible for early parole consideration; and (2) the voters did not intend for Proposition 57 to require the application of conduct credits towards an inmate’s early parole eligible date. The Court of Appeal  with the Department that Title 15, section 3490, subdivisions (e) and (f) are valid under the plain language of Prop 57.

Analysis of “Full Term” Language

Article I, section 32, subdivision (a)(1), enacted pursuant to Proposition 57, provides: “Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.” Subdivision (a)(1)(A) of that section defines “full term” for purposes of the Amendment: “For purposes of this section only, the full term for the primary offense means the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence.”

CDCR promulgated Title 15, section 3490, subdivision (e), which defined “full term” as “the actual number of days, months, and years imposed by the sentencing court for the inmate’s primary offense, not including any sentencing credits.” Subdivision (f) of the same section calculates a prisoner’s parole eligible date as the date the inmate “has served the full term of his or her primary offense, less any actual dates served prior to sentencing … and any actual days served in custody between sentencing and the date the inmate is received by the department.”

The Court of Appeal concluded that the “full term” was intended by the voters to refer to the sentence imposed by the court without including conduct credits.

The Court compared the definition of the “full term” of a prisoner’s “primary offense” to the “full term” of a defendant’s “principal offense” as used in the determinate sentencing act (DSA) and found them similar

Prop 57 adhered to the common legal usage of “full term” and the commonsense, everyday definition of “full term” as a term that is full, as opposed to reduced.

Many prisoners  will be eligible for parole consideration sooner under Proposition 57 than they would have been prior to its passage. Although Title 15, section 3490, subdivisions (e) and (f) do not maximize the possible benefit to all inmates, those regulations implementing Prop. 57 are not contrary to the stated purposes of the Amendment such that they are invalid.

 

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