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California Court of Appeals Holds Consecutive Sentence Begins When Prisoner Found Suitable for Parole

In a decision handed down on May 14, 2015, a California court of appeals held that a prisoner’s consecutive sentence for a felony committed while incarcerated (custodial felony) begins on the date he is found suitable for parole, not on the date he completes his base sentence.

Damien Coleman, a California state prisoner, was serving an indeterminate sentence of 15 years to life for murder when he was convicted of conspiring to introduce a controlled substance into the prison. He received a consecutive six-year determinate sentence for that offense.

After Coleman had served 22 years, the Board of Parole Hearings found him suitable for parole and calculated the base term of confinement for his murder conviction at 18 years. A base term is the sentence that is appropriate for an offense after which a prisoner could theoretically be released.

The California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections calculated Coleman’s release date using the board’s date of determining his suitability for parole for the beginning of the six-year sentence and this required him to serve another four years on the consecutive sentence. Coleman filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging the six-year sentence should have started at the end of the base sentence and he was being held beyond his release date. The superior court agreed and ordered his release. The warden appealed.

The court of appeals noted that California Penal Code § 1170.1(c) mandates that a consecutive sentence for a custodial felony “shall commence from the time the person would otherwise have been released from prison.” This language clearly means that the consecutive sentence should begin on the date the prisoner is found suitable for parole, not on the date he completes his base term. Therefore, the superior court erred in granting the writ and the court of appeals reversed the order granting the habeas petition. Attorney Marc Eric Norton represented Coleman on appeal. See: In re Coleman, (2015) Cal.App.lst , No. A142734.


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Related legal case

In re Coleman