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Brown Calls for Prospective Enforcement of Early-Release Law

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Sacramento—Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today sent a law-enforcement bulletin to California’s district attorneys and sheriffs in which he asserted his position that California Penal Code Section 4019, the new law that reduces jail time for prisoners in local facilities, applies prospectively.

The Attorney General has begun filing briefs in a series of court cases advancing his position that Penal Code 4019 provides enhanced good-time and work credits to prisoners during the time spent in prison after January 25, but not before.

“In response to numerous inquiries, this bulletin states the position of the Department of Justice,” Brown said. “After analyzing the code section, it seems reasonably clear that the law should apply prospectively.”

The bulletin, distributed today throughout the state, is below:



Effective January 25, 2010, Penal Code section 4019 was amended to change the calculation of good-time and work credits earned by prisoners not guilty of sex or violent crimes while they are confined in local facilities. The amendment states that these prisoners will earn one day credit for every day they are confined so long as they comply with applicable rules and do not refuse to perform labor. Before this section was amended, these prisoners generally earned one day credit for two days they were confined.

District Attorneys and county counsel have differing views on whether the amendment is retroactive (i.e., applies to the time prisoners were confined before January 25) or prospective (i.e., applies only to the time prisoners are confined after January 25). These differences are understandable since the Legislature was silent on the issue when it enacted the amendment.

Ultimately, the courts will have to decide whether the amendment is retroactive or prospective, and it is not normally the role of the Attorney General to resolve differences in possible interpretations of criminal statutes affecting local law-enforcement matters. But in light of numerous questions that have arisen, this Law Enforcement Bulletin summarizes the position that the Attorney General set forth in a brief filed last week, and will continue to advance in briefs that will be filed today and in subsequent weeks, in cases before the state courts of appeal. That position is that Penal Code section 4019 should be deemed prospective because there is no clear evidence that the Legislature intended it to be retroactive.

“[I]n the absence of an express retroactivity provision, a statute will not be applied retroactively unless it is very clear from extrinsic sources that the Legislature . . . intended a retroactive application.” (Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1209) (citing Penal Code section 3).) Here, there are no clear extrinsic sources demonstrating that the Legislature intended a retroactive application.
Rather than simply reducing sentences, the amendment is designed to encourage good behavior on the part of prisoners by increasing the amount of work and good-time credits that they can earn. In concluding that a similar amendment was prospective, the appellate court in In re Stinnette noted that the public purpose behind such laws “is the desirable and legitimate purpose of motivating good conduct among prisoners so as to maintain discipline and minimize threats to prison security. Reason dictates that it is impossible to influence behavior after it has occurred.” (In re Stinnette (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 800, 806.) Although People v. Doganiere (1978) 86 Cal.App.3d 237, found that an amendment to the calculation of conduct credits could be imposed retroactively, the holding is unpersuasive because the court failed to address the point that conduct credits are intended by their nature to influence future behavior.

If the Legislature had intended to lower incarceration costs by reducing prison sentences retroactively, it could easily have done so through a more direct means, such as increasing credits in a manner unrelated to prisoner conduct. The fact that it declined to do so, combined with its failure to expressly address retroactivity, supports our position that the amendment should be applied prospectively.

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Press Office Contacts

Email: agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Phone Number: (415) 703-5837


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