‘Heroic’ Prisoner Held Eligible for Sentence Break
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A state prisoner who has earned the maximum amount of credit for good behavior under the Three-Strikes Law is eligible for a further reduction for “perform[ing] a heroic act in a life-threatening situation,” the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Justice Ming Chin, writing for a unanimous court, said a divided panel in this district’s Div. Six erred in concluding that legislation would be required to permit any further reduction for a prisoner who has earned the 20 percent maximum “worktime” credits allowed by the Three-Strikes Law.
The high court overturned the denial of former inmate Ronald Young’s habeas corpus petition under Penal Code Sec. 2935. The section allows the Department of Corrections to reduce the sentence of an inmate by up to 12 months in unusual situations.
Young, who was subject to the 20 percent limitation because he was serving a second-strike sentence for burglary, asked for the reduction in 2001 after he performed the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged food from the airway of a prison employee.
The department concluded that it could not grant the request if the effect, after combining the reduction with worktime credits, would be to reduce the total sentence by more than 20 percent. The Div. Six majority agreed, “regretfully” holding that “[i]t would elevate form over substance to conclude that a reduction differs from a credit.”
But Chin said the distinction is a valid one.
“The difference between a sentence reduction and a credit is not merely semantic in this context. There is a qualitative difference between a sentence reduction based on a heroic act...and postsentence conduct credits....[Penal Code] Sections 2931 and 2933 [governing “good time” and worktime credits] serve to encourage a prisoner’s conformity to prison regulations and his participation in rehabilitative activities to facilitate reintegration into society....By working and not engaging in misconduct in prison, i.e., activities that generally affect only the prisoner himself, a prisoner may earn credits toward reducing his determinate sentence....Section 2935, however, is substantially different because it rewards a prisoner’s selfless act of heroism, which may save the life of another. In this case, petitioner saved the life of his work supervisor when another prisoner refused to help. As petitioner emphasizes, his heroic act in prison was particularly significant because other prisoners may have become hostile toward him for helping ‘the enemy,’ and prison guards could have misconstrued petitioner’s actions as attacking rather than saving the supervisor. “
Young has already been released on parole. But he may be eligible for a reduction in the length of parole based on the high court’s ruling, Chin noted.
The case was argued by David H. Goodwin of Los Angeles for Young and Deputy Attorney General Heather Bushman for the state.
The case is In re Young, 04 S.O.S. 1928.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company