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Indiana Prisoner Entitled to Credit Time During Period of Erroneous Liberty

by David M. Reutter

The Indiana Supreme Court held that a prisoner who was erroneously released early “is entitled to credit time as if he were still incarcerated during the period he was erroneously at liberty.”

The court’s June 21, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Jordan Allen Temme. He pled guilty in 2017 to several charges under two different case numbers. Temme was sentenced to a total of nine years with the sentences running consecutive to one another on the two case numbers. His projected release date was December 2020.

Five of the nine years were for felony offense to be served in the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC). The other offenses were misdemeanors. Upon intake into IDOC, prison officials erroneously awarded 450 days of jail credit that were supposed to be credited to the misdemeanor offenses. That resulted in Temme being released to the Vanderburgh County Jail (VCJ) after serving only ten months of his felony sentences. He was also discharged from parole supervision.

After arriving at VCJ, Temme was again awarded the 450 days of credit. Although he raised questions that release date was too early, Temme was released on July 4, 2019, with 450 days left on his sentence. The state, on July 25, 2019, filed a Motion Requesting the Court Reexamine Defendant’s Credit Time, alleging Temme was released without serving his full sentence. It requested that Temme be readmitted to IDOC to finish serving his full sentence. Temme filed a motion requesting he receive credit time from the date he was released through readmission to IDOC. In the alternative, he requested the court modify his sentence to be placed on community corrections or work release.

The trial court denied Temme’s motion and ordered that he be readmitted to IDOC to finish serving his sentence. The order was stayed pending resolution of an appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. See: Temme v. State, 158 N.E.3d 423 (Ind. App. 2020). The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer so it could consider the appeal.
“At its heart, Temme’s argument is one of fairness—that re-incarceration would serve no rehabilitative purpose in his case because he bore no fault in his early release and because he had successfully reintegrated in society,” the Court wrote.

Indiana’s credit time statutes are not directly on point and federal case law presents differing tests to determine credit time while erroneously at liberty. One line of cases holds that a defendant who was erroneously released have that time from release treated in the same way as if he was incarcerated. The rationale behind that is the concept that the government cannot postpone or interrupt the release date when there is no fault accrued to the defendant. See: White v. Pearlman, 42 F.2d 788 (10th Cir. 1930).

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals adopted a totality of the circumstances test. It requires consideration of the nature of the underlying offense, whether the defendant notified the government of his erroneous release, the amount of time remaining in the sentence, the defendant’s ability to reintegrate into society, and the government’s promptness in rectifying its error. See: United States v. Grant, 862 F.3d 417 (4th Cir. 2017).

Indiana law defines “credit time” as “the sum of a person’s accrued time, good time credit, and educational credit.” See: Ind. Code Section § 35-50-6-0.5(2). The Court found that section “only concerns credit time while an inmate is imprisoned or confined.” It thought that “statute serves as a useful guide for determining what credit an erroneously released inmate is due for his time spent at liberty.”

They announced a straightforward rule that does not relieve the defendant of his or her sentence. “As long as the defendant bears no responsibility in his early release, he or she is entitled to credit while erroneously at liberty as if still incarcerated,” the court held.

That rule “is grounded in the idea that the State may not play cat and mouse with a defendant so as to push back a prisoner’s release date, particularly if the prisoner bears no responsibility for the State’s errors.” The trial court’s order was reversed and the case was remanded to determine any credit time Tamme still owed. The time for the appeal and until the trial court makes its determination counts as part of that credit time. See: Temme v. State, 169 N.E.3d 857 (Ind. 2021). 

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Related legal cases

Temme v. State

United States v. Grant

White v. Pearlman