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California Supreme Court Clarifies Application of Presentence Good-Conduct Credit Statute

In an opinion of technical value, but little if any benefit to anyone (including the defendant in the case), the California Supreme Court held that a defendant need spend only four days in presentence confinement -- not six days, as argued by the State -- in order to become entitled to receive conduct credit pursuant to Penal Code section 4019.

The controversy arose when Roland Dieck was released on his own recognizance after spending five days in county jail. Dieck subsequently pled nolo contendere to two offenses and was sentenced to state prison for a total of 32 months. Execution of the sentence, however, was suspended; instead, Dieck was placed on probation on the condition that he spend one year in county jail, with credit for time served -- but, notwithstanding the good-conduct credit provisions of section 4019, no conduct credit.
Containing six subdivisions, section 4019 provides for two days of conduct credit for every four days of presentence incarceration. In Dieck’s case, confusion arose because subdivision (e) limits application of section 4019 to a person “committed for a period of six days or longer” -- and, at the time he was sentenced, Dieck had spent only five days in custody.

In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny section 4019 good-conduct credits to Dieck. It interpreted subdivision (e) as unambiguously requiring a defendant to spend a minimum of six days in presentence custody before becoming eligible to receive good conduct credits.

The California Supreme Court agreed that subdivision (e) was unambiguous, but held that it set forth a minimum period of commitment rather than a minimum period of confinement. For Dieck, this proved to be much ado about nothing, as he was ultimately confined for a period exceeding six days and thus, under either interpretation, entitled to the disputed conduct credit. In a footnote, the Supreme Court noted that its decision resolved not only whether, but also when, Dieck became entitled to that credit. See: People v. Dieck, 46 Cal.4th 934 (CA S.Ct. 2009).

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Related legal case

People v. Dieck