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In Re Jeffrey Stuard

September 9, 2011

IN RE JEFFREY STUARD, ON HABEAS CORPUS.


(Super. Ct. No. WHC980)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.

In re Stuard

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

On June 7, 2004, the court sentenced defendant Jeffrey Stuard (petitioner) to seven years eight months in prison based upon his no contest pleas to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, transportation of a controlled substance, hit and run with injury, evading a police officer by means of a high speed chase, and his admission of a prior narcotics-related offense. The court suspended execution of the sentence and placed petitioner on formal probation for five years.

On October 21, 2008, petitioner admitted violating conditions of his probation; the court revoked his probation and imposed the previously stayed seven-years-eight-months sentence. Although the court awarded petitioner credit for actual time served and for conduct, the calculations are incorrect, a matter we will address at the conclusion of this opinion. At this point it is sufficient to note the court credited petitioner with conduct credits under the formula in existence at the time of sentencing.*fn1 Petitioner did not appeal.

Effective January 25, 2010, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 3X 18,*fn2 which amended Penal Code section 4019 (the new amendment) to provide two days of conduct credit for every two days actually served in presentence custody to a class of prisoners (eligible prisoners) deemed safe for early release from prison. This class consists of prisoners who were neither required to register as sex offenders, nor committed for serious felonies, nor previously convicted of serious or violent felonies.

Petitioner, an eligible prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition in the superior court seeking retroactive application of the new amendment under equal protection principles. The court denied relief, concluding the new amendment did not apply to judgments that became final prior to January 25, 2010.

Petitioner then filed a petition in this court, renewing his argument. In response, the People argue that equal protection was not violated because the statute seeks to encourage good conduct by prisoners awaiting final sentencing and thus excludes prisoners whose judgments are final; hence, the two groups are not similarly situated. The People also propose a rational basis for the disparate treatment, viz: that retroactive application of the new amendment to final judgments would violate the separation of powers doctrine.*fn3 We reject the People's contentions and conclude the new amendment is retroactive to all eligible prisoners irrespective of the date their judgments became final.

EQUAL PROTECTION

"The equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the California Constitution are substantially equivalent and analyzed in similar fashion." (People v. Leng (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 1, 11.) We first ask whether the two classes are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law in question, but are treated differently. (Cooley v. Superior Court (2002) 29 Cal.4th 228, 253.) If groups are similarly situated but treated differently, the state must then provide a rational justification for the disparity. (People v. Hofsheier (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1185, 1200-1201.)

The People's justification for the new amendment, to wit, to encourage good behavior, does not comport with the Legislature's stated purpose, and we are bound by the latter. (People v. Butler (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 1224, 1234.) The purpose of the new amendment, as expressly stated in Senate Bill No. 3X 18, was to aid the state in addressing the "fiscal emergency" declared by the Governor in December 2008,*fn4 rather than to encourage good behavior as asserted by the People. (Stats. 2009, ch. 28, ยง 62.) The new amendment accomplishes this fiscal purpose by identifying a class of prisoners deemed safe for early release and increasing the rate at which they earn presentence conduct credits, thereby reducing the cost of their incarceration. Dividing the class of eligible prisoners into two groups based on the date their judgments became final bears no rational relationship to either their dangerousness or their cost of incarceration. (Cf. In re Kapperman (1974) 11 Cal.3d 542, 544-550 ...


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