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California: Enhanced Presentence Conduct Credits Not Available to Defendants Who Committed Crimes Before Statute’s Effective Date

In an October 15, 2012 unpublished ruling, the California Court of Appeal rejected a claim that the denial of enhanced presentence conduct credits to a defendant who committed his offense before October 1, 2011 – the effective date of an amendment to Penal Code section 4019 which doubled the rate at which jail detainees could earn conduct credits – violated equal protection principles.

In July 2011, when section 4019 provided for the accrual of conduct credits at the rate of two days for every four days of actual time served in presentence custody, Adelso Perez Huerta pleaded no contest to felony assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. Three months later an amendment to section 4019 became effective that provided for accrual of conduct credits at the rate of two days for every two days served. However, by its express terms the amendment stated it was prospective only; that is, it only applied to crimes committed after its effective date.

Huerta argued that section 4019 violated equal protection principles because it treated a defendant who committed a crime before October 1, 2011 differently than if he or she had committed the same offense after that date.

Relying on a recent opinion of the California Supreme Court, People v. Brown, 54 Cal.4th 314, 278 P.3d 1182 (Cal. 2012), the Court of Appeal rejected Huerta’s equal protection challenge. In Brown, the Supreme Court held that a previous amendment to section 4019, which became effective in January 2010 and also provided for enhanced conduct credits, should not apply retroactively. The Court reasoned, in essence, that because incentives for good behavior cannot actually modify behavior before they take effect, prisoners who served time before and after the credit-enhancing provisions of the former amendment to section 4019 were effective are not similarly situated for equal protection purposes.

The Court of Appeal saw no reason why the reasoning in Brown should not be extended to Huerta’s claim with respect to the subsequent October 2011 amendment to section 4019.

In an unrelated regard, Huerta also challenged various conditions of his probation, some of which were modified by the appellate court – including conditions related to drug and alcohol use, possession of firearms and ammunition, possession of police scanners or surveillance equipment, and a prohibition on obtaining new gang-related tattoos. See: People v. Huerta, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7432 (Cal. App. 6th Dist. Oct. 15, 2012).

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Related legal case

People v. Huerta