Two revisions to North Carolina’s primary jail credit statute, G.S. 15-196.1, will kick in on December 1, 2015. Both of them benefit defendants.
The changes appear in Session Law 2015-229, signed by the governor on Tuesday.
Incident-based crediting. The first change broadens the confinement that is eligible for credit under G.S. 15-196.1. As described in this prior post, under the existing version of the law, a defendant is eligible for all time spent in confinement “as a result of the charge that culminated in the sentence.” Not everyone interprets that provision in the same way. Under the most restrictive interpretation, a defendant doesn’t get credit for confinement on any charge aside from the one actually resulting in a conviction—even if the ultimate charge was a superseding charge for the same crime, or perhaps a different charge for the same behavior. For example, a defendant charged with rape who ultimately pleads to indecent liberties would get no credit for the confinement on the rape charge, because the rape charge did not “culminate in the sentence.”
The revised law commands a broader view of creditable confinement, requiring the judge to credit all time spent in confinement as a result of the charge that culminated in the sentence or the “incident from which the charge arose.” The authorization to award credit for confinement related to the same “incident” will clearly require the court to credit confinement on an earlier charge for the same behavior that eventually results in a conviction on a different charge (like the rape-to-indecent liberties scenario described above).
The change probably also allows some flexibility for crediting between two charges stemming from different behavior, so long as the behavior is related to the same incident. Suppose, for example, that a defendant is initially charged with and detained on Crime A. Fifty days later he is also charged with and detained on Crime B, which is a different crime, but arising out of the same transaction or occurrence as Charge A. Charge A is dismissed, but Charge B results in a conviction. Under existing law, no credit is allowed for the first 50 days of confinement, because Charge A did not culminate in a sentence. Under the revised law, credit for those first 50 days of confinement on later-dismissed Charge A can probably be applied to Charge B, because the confinement stemmed from the same incident.
There may be room for debate about what the statute means by “incident,” but the General Assembly could have used other words—like “conduct” or “behavior”—if it did not intend to allow for credit-sharing between factually distinct but transactionally related charges. Regardless, the change should reduce the prevalence of “dead time”—that is, time spent in pretrial custody that, for one reason or another, doesn’t get credited to any sentence.
Using up credit. The second change relates to the issue described in this prior post: the notion that credit shared between multiple charges sentenced at different times gets “used up” by the first conviction that is sentenced—even when all the sentences wind up running concurrently. That view stems from a fairly common interpretation of the prohibition on credit for time applied to a “previously imposed sentence to which [the] defendant is subject” in G.S. 15-196.1.
To illustrate the issue, suppose a defendant is detained on both Charge A and Charge B for 50 days. For whatever reason, Charge A gets sentenced first, and the judge applies 50 days of jail credit to the sentence. Charge B is sentenced 10 days later, with the sentence to run concurrently with the sentence for Charge A.
Some say Charge B gets no credit, because the 50 days of shared credit have, at that point, already been applied to Sentence A—a “previously imposed sentence to which [the] defendant is subject” within the meaning of G.S. 15-196.1.
Others say that only the 10 days of confinement between the sentencing of Charge A and Charge B is barred under G.S. 15-196.1. They read “previously imposed sentence” to refer to a sentence to which the defendant “is subject” prior to the accrual of credit on the case now being sentenced, not merely prior to its sentencing. Only when the defendant is serving post-conviction time on Sentence A is it “previously imposed” within the language of G.S. 15-196.1, and so the first 50 days of shared credit may still be applied to both sentences.
The legislature apparently favored the latter interpretation. Revised G.S. 15-196.1 removes the confusing “previously imposed” language and replaces it with a clearer (and more clearly limited) prohibition. The only time for which a defendant may not be awarded credit is when he or she is “serving a sentence imposed for another offense.” In other words, when you’re already serving time, you don’t accrue jail credit toward anything else. If you aren’t already serving time, whether or not shared credit gets applied to multiple sentences depends on whether they are ultimately set to run concurrently or consecutively, as provided in G.S. 15-196.2. No longer should credit be considered “used up” with respect to one charge just because another charge was sentenced first.
Effective date. Both changes are “effective December 1, 2015,” with no qualification as to offense date, conviction date, or sentencing date.