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Kentucky Law Retroactively Applied to Award Street Credit

The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that a law that applies “street credit” to released prisoners effectively suspends existing statutory law that specifies time spent on parole does not count towards a prisoner’s maximum sentence.

The Court accepted transfer of appeals from two circuit courts concerning the application of House Bill 406 (HB 406), which was the Commonwealth’s biennial budget for 2008-10. The Pulaski Circuit Court granted the Attorney General’s request for an injunction prohibiting the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) from applying HB 406’s street credit provision retroactively, but the Franklin Circuit Court refused to grant a similar injunction.

The Pulaski court’s injunction applied only to people sentenced within that court’s jurisdiction, but the Franklin case sought statewide application. The Kentucky Supreme Court accepted the appeals to resolve the disagreement between the circuit courts.

Prior to the state’s adoption of HB 406, time spent on parole could not count as part of a prisoner’s maximum sentence to determine final discharge date eligibility.

Believing it to be the General Assembly’s intent, the KDOC began applying HB 406 retroactively. As of November 2008 the department had released 1,562 prisoners from custody and discharged 2,135 parolees. The Supreme Court found the KDOC was applying the law retroactively, and treated it that way in adjudicating the matter.

The Court held that the KDOC was fulfilling legislative intent in applying HB 406 retroactively. While HB 406 did not specifically state it was to be retroactive, the Court said it could look at the funds appropriated to the KDOC to determine whether the General Assembly had intended HB 406 to apply retroactively.

The Supreme Court found that the KDOC’s budget was cut by $12 million for FY 2008-09 and $19 million in FY 2009-10 as a result of anticipated savings from the “broad application of the street credit provisions.” The language of HB 406, furthermore, was written in the past tense, which supported retroactivity.

As such, the Kentucky Supreme Court held, in a corrected decision issued on January 4, 2010, that the Pulaski Circuit Court’s injunction could not be enforced and the Franklin Circuit Court was correct in refusing to grant an injunction. See: Commonwealth ex rel. Conway v. Thompson, 300 S.W.3d 152 (Ky. 2009).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth ex rel. Conway v. Thompson