Today’s post is about a recurrent question related to jail credit for periods of confinement in response to violation (CRV). First, a 30-second refresher on the basics of CRV.
When a probationer commits a violation other than a new criminal offense or absconding, the court may order a period of confinement in response to violation. CRV is 90 days for a felon and up to 90 days for a misdemeanant. If a person is on probation for multiple offenses, CRV periods “shall run concurrently on all cases related to the violation.” G.S. 15A-1344(d2). After the defendant has received two CRV “strikes” in a particular case, he or she may be revoked for any subsequent violation. Any CRV periods served in the revoked cases “shall be credited pursuant to G.S. 15-196.1.” Id.
That brings us to today’s question. Suppose a defendant is on probation for three convictions with 8–19 month suspended sentences in each case, set to run consecutively in the event of revocation. Assume the conditions of probation are identical in all three cases. During his probation, the defendant commits a technical violation for which the court imposes a 90-day CRV in each case. As noted above, under G.S. 15A-1344(d2), these three CRV periods must be served concurrently. So the defendant serves 90 days in prison and returns to probation. How is that time credited if the defendant’s probation is later revoked?
It seems to me that the defendant must get 90 days of credit against each of the three sentences, for a total of 270 days. And I think that’s the case regardless of whether the sentences are run consecutively or concurrently upon revocation. The time was in fact served in each case, and no statute directs the court to disregard it when completing the revocation order in an individual case.
If that feels strange, it’s probably because it’s different from how we credit pretrial jail credit when a defendant is held on multiple charges. In that context, when a defendant winds up getting consecutive sentences, we do not multiply any shared credit for pretrial confinement by the number of consecutive sentences for which the defendant is imprisoned. That is so because G.S. 15-196.2 tells us not to multiply it. The reason for that rule is that when a judge winds up ordering consecutive sentences, we learn for the first time that the defendant has, to that point, been serving the only first sentence in the consecutive string, and that service of the second and subsequent sentences is yet to come. And so we credit the pretrial confinement only once.
Neither G.S. 15-196.2 nor the rationale behind it applies to CRV. First, G.S. 15A-1344(d2) makes no reference to the non-multiplication rule of G.S. 15-196.2; it says only that prior CRV periods shall be credited pursuant to G.S. 15-196.1. Second, unlike pretrial confinement, CRV is mandatorily and unmistakably concurrent from the get-go. Yes, the remainder of any activated sentences may wind up being served consecutively, but that does not trump the legislature’s command that any portion of the sentences served as CRV “shall run concurrently.”
I should note that not everyone agrees with me on this. I know some clerks will not credit CRV time against multiple cases, and I’ve certainly heard from judges, prosecutors, and probation officers who find that sort of double (or triple, as in my example above) counting of the time to be downright offensive. To be sure, crediting of the time in this way lessens the impact of any consecutive suspended sentences ordered by the court. But I don’t see how the law can be read to allow for the un-crediting of time actually served in each case, when the General Assembly has ordered that portion of it to be served concurrently.
The issue can be avoided. The court is never required to order CRV. If a defendant is on probation for multiple cases and violates probation in each of them, the court could order CRV in only one of the cases and use a different response in the others. There is a trade-off in the sense that the probationer does not accrue a CRV “strike” in the other cases. But it turns out that hardly anybody gets to his or her third CRV strike before probation ends. One of the following things almost always happens first: the period of probation expires or is terminated, the suspended sentence gets used up (especially in misdemeanor cases), or the probationer commits a new crime or absconds.