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California Court of Appeal: Equal Protection Requires Pretrial Detainees on Home Confinement Be Eligible for Good Conduct Credits

by Douglas Ankney

The Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Two, held that equal protection requires that pretrial detainees held in home confinement on electronic monitoring be eligible for good conduct credits against their sentences later imposed by the trial court.

William Antonio Yanez pleaded no contest to possessing more than one kilogram of methamphetamine and was sentenced to nearly six years in prison. By the time of Yanez’s sentencing, he had spent 555 days in pretrial home confinement on electronic monitoring. At sentencing, the trial court granted him custody credits for the 555 days of home confinement, but the court deemed him ineligible for good conduct credits. Yanez appealed, arguing that since persons sentenced to home confinement subsequent to a criminal conviction are eligible for the good conduct credits, then it was a denial of equal protection to deny those good conduct credits to pretrial detainees who were held in home confinement prior to being convicted.

The Court of Appeal observed that “‘[t]he constitutional guaranty of equal protection of the laws has been judicially defined to mean that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty and property and in their pursuit of happiness.’” People v. Leng, 71 Cal.App.4th 1 (1999). The concept recognizes that persons similarly situated shall not be treated differently unless the disparity is justified. Id. Under the Equal Protection Clause, the courts do not inquire whether persons are similarly situated for all purposes but whether they are similarly situated for the purposes of the challenged law. People v. Rajanayagam, 211 Cal.App.4th 42 (2012).

In California, certain prisoners are eligible to receive two days of good conduct credits for every four days the prisoners serve. California Penal Code § 4019. These credits, earned for good behavior and for working, are subtracted from the prisoner’s sentence. Id.

On January 1, 2015, § 4019 was amended to permit convicted prisoners serving their sentences in home detention to be eligible to receive the credits. Id. But the amendment does not apply to pretrial detainees in home confinement.

During Yanez’s period of pretrial home confinement, he was required to remain within the interior premises of his residence; admit into his residence at any time any person or agent designated by the correctional administrator to verify his compliance with the conditions of his home detention; and allow the correctional administrator – without further court order – to immediately take him into custody if the electronic monitoring devices failed, if he failed to pay fees to the provider of the electronic monitoring, or if he failed to comply with the terms of home detention. California Penal Code § 1203.018.

However, California Penal Code § 1203.016 governs a program of home confinement in which certain convicted prisoners may serve their sentences in lieu of confinement in jail. But the conditions of their home detention are substantially the same as those of the pretrial detainees who are placed in home detention. The Court determined that for purposes of this equal protection challenge pretrial detainees in home detention and convicted defendants serving their sentences in home detention are similarly situated.

The Court rejected the State’s argument that there was a rational basis for the disparate treatment of the two groups because the State’s position was supported by case precedent decided before the amendment that made convicted prisoners in home detention eligible for the credits. That is, in People v. Lapaille, 15 Cal.App.4th 1159 (1993), the court held that persons held in preconviction home detention had no right to good conduct credits because convicted prisoners in home detention had no right to good conduct credits. The rationale was that good conduct credits were denied to those in home detention because their conditions were not as onerous as the conditions of prisoners held in custodial facilities. However, since the amendment of January 1, 2015, made convicted prisoners in home detention eligible for the credits, the rationale of Lapaille is no longer applicable. Instead, the Court was persuaded by People v. Sage, 26 Cal.3d 498 (1980).

In Sage, the California Supreme Court held that denial of conduct credits for pretrial jail time served by a detainee later convicted of a felony violated equal protection because a convicted felon who served no jail time was entitled to good conduct credits against his full sentence for his good conduct earned while in prison. This meant the prisoner who served no jail time served a shorter period of confinement. Additionally, a pretrial jail detainee later convicted of a misdemeanor was also eligible for good conduct credits.

In Sage, the Supreme Court rejected the same argument the State made in the instant case, i.e., because pretrial jail detainees have different conditions of confinement from imprisoned defendants, they aren’t eligible for good conduct credits. The Supreme Court rejected that argument because pretrial jail misdemeanants are eligible. The Court of Appeal concluded there is no rational reason to support the disparate treatment between pretrial detainees in home detention and convicted prisoners serving their sentences in home detention.

Accordingly, the Court directed the trial court to calculate the amount of conduct credit for which Yanez is entitled under § 4019, amend the abstract of judgment accordingly, and forward a certified copy of same to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. See: People v. Yanez, 42 Cal. App. 5th 91 (2019).

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Related legal case

People v. Yanez

 

 

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