Monday, May 23, 2005

In Re Reeves (Cal. Supreme Ct. - May 9, 2005)

Who says only King Solomon can split the baby? The California Supreme Court did precisely that here.

James Reeves is convicted of two offenses. One is a crime of violence, the other isn't. He's sentenced to five years on the violent offense and ten years on the nonviolent offense, to be served concurrently (i.e., at the same time). For nonviolent offenses, a prisoner can accrue worktime credits at a maximum rate of fifty percent (i.e., one day of credit for each day of work). But for nonviolent offenses, a prisoner can accrue worktime credits at a maximum rate of only fifteen percent.

So how much time does Reeves have to serve if he accrues worktime credits at the maximum rate? What are the options? 4.25 years? 5 years? 8.5 years? 10 years? Something else?

Reeves says 5 years, which is 50% of 10 years on the nonviolent offense (and in excess of 85% of 5 years for the violent offense). By contrast, California says 8.5 years, which 85% of 10 years (and assumes that the 15% rate is applied to the whole sentence, including the nonviolent offense). The California Supreme Court says, nah, it's 7.125 years. (Actually, they didn't say that at all -- I just calculated it out.)

Why 7.125 years? Because it's between 5 and 8.5, of course. And a little bit on the side of the California rather than the prisoner, lest the Justices be recalled. Nah. Just kidding. (Kind of.) It's because the Court splits the baby this way: the maximum rate is fifteen percent during the five years in which Reeves is doing time for the violent offense, and -- once that sentence is over (i.e., in 4.25 years, assuming maximum credits) -- then fifty percent during the subsequent 5.75 years in which he's doing time for the nonviolent offense. So 7.125.

The case highlights a bunch of things, including, inter alia, the utter irrelevance of the rule of lenity in the modern judicial era. But that's no real surprise. Nor is the fact that Justice Chin, Baxter, and Brown don't think that 7.125 is the correct figure. And if you can't correctly guess whether these three want a longer or shorter sentence for Reeves, you need to bone up on your knowledge of these Justices. Anyway, they lose, and in a 4-3 vote, the California Supreme Court splits the baby. Note also, by the way, that none of the seven Justices argue for the 5-year figure. Even though both the Superior Court and Court of Appeal below thought that this was the correct number.