by Mark Wilson
On April 29, 2022, the California Court of Appeals held that incompetent to stand trial (IST) defendants who are confined in a state hospital receiving treatment to restore competency must be granted the same opportunity for presentence conduct credit as defendants who remain in the jail receiving competency treatment, under a law that became effective on January 1, 2019.
Since 1976, California pretrial detainees have been eligible to earn conduct credit for performing labor and complying with all applicable rules, under § 4019 of the California Penal Code. For every four-day period a defendant is confined, one day is deducted from the detainee’s sentence for satisfactory performance of assigned labor and one day is deducted for good behavior. “If all days are earned under this section, a term of four days will be deemed to have been served for every two days spent in actual custody.”
IST defendants treated in state hospitals or other treatment facilities were not statutorily eligible for conduct credit under § 4019. In 2017, however, § 1369.1 was enacted allowing a jail to be designated a “treatment facility” for the sole purpose of administering antipsychotic medication to IST defendants. In 2012, legislation authorized treatment of jailed IST defendants beyond anti-psychotics. Finally, in 2017, the Legislature gave the Department of State Hospitals jurisdiction over any jail treatment facility under contract to provide competency restoration services.
In 2018, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 1187, amending § 4019 to make IST defendants eligible for conduct credit while confined to a jail treatment facility on or after January 1, 2019. The intention was to ensure that jailed IST defendants would be entitled to earn conduct credit just as other jail detainees. Finally, in 2021, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 317, again amending § 4019, to extend conduct credits to IST defendants receiving competency treatment in a state hospital on or after January 1, 2022.
Jimmy Yang was charged with California assault and child abuse offenses in April 2018. The charges stemmed from striking his father in the head with a flashlight and kicking a juvenile down the stairs.
On April 9, 2018, the trial court found Yang incompetent to stand trial, suspended the proceedings and committed him to the state hospital. Yang was admitted on August 13, 2018 and remained there until the hospital’s medical director certified that he was competent to stand trial on August 7, 2019.
On August 14, 2019, the trial court found Yang competent to stand trial and reinstated the criminal proceedings. In late August 2019, Yang pled no contest to an amended count of assault. Pursuant to terms of the plea, the court imposed a 4-year sentence, suspended its execution and placed Yang on probation.
The probation department filed its first petition to revoke probation in April 2020, followed by five other petitions over the course of a year. The trial court ultimately revoked Yang’s probation and imposed the previously-suspended 4-year prison term.
During the May 13, 2021 sentencing hearing, Yang argued that he was entitled to credit for August 13, 2018 to August 7, 2019, when he was confined in a state hospital as an IST defendant. The trial court rejected that argument and awarded only 254 days of conduct credit for the time Yang actually spent in jail.
The California Court of Appeal reversed. While it found that People v. Brown, 54 Cal.4th 314 (2012) foreclosed Yang’s argument that Senate Bill 312 (2021) applies retroactively, the Court agreed that equal protection requirements dictate that Yang be granted conduct credits pursuant to Senate Bill 1187, which became effective January 1, 2019, for the time he was confined in the state hospital. See: People v. Yang, 78 Cal.App.5th 120 (Cal. Ct. App. 2022).
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