Vol. 25 No. 5 – “Conduct Credits” Under Penal Code §4019 Apply Prospectively


March 4, 2010

On March 1, 2010, the 5th Appellate District Court of Appeal decided the case of People v. Rodriguez which, among other things, analyzed the application of Penal Code 4019 and how “conduct credit” was to be applied.

Penal Code section 4019 was recently amended and now provides that criminal defendants may earn additional presentence credit against their  sentence for their willingness to perform assigned labor and for compliance with rules and regulations.  The law does not state if it is to be applied prospectively, to those sentenced after it took effect (January 25, 2010), or retroactively to those sentenced prior to 1/25/10.

When legislation does not include a “saving clause,” meaning that it does not specify if the statute shall be applied prospectively or retroactively, as was stated in the case of In Re Estrada(1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, “the problem … is one of trying to ascertain the legislative intent ….”  Our Supreme Court has ruled that “[a] new statute is generally presumed to operate prospectively absent an express declaration of retroactivity or a clear and compelling implication that the Legislature intended otherwise.”

When Rodriguez was sentenced in February of last year, under the version of section 4019 then in effect, conduct credit could be accrued at the rate of two days for every four days of actual presentence custody.  The amendment, however, allowed those who were not registered sex offenders and didn’t have a conviction for a violent felony, to accrue conduct credit at the rate of four days for every four days of presentence custody.

In Estrada, the Supreme Court invoked the “rule” that “where the amendatory statute mitigates punishment and there is no saving clause, … the amendment will operate retroactively so that the lighter punishment is imposed.”

However, the Rodriguez court stated that, “although the 2010 amendment to section 4019 can be said, in some sense, to lessen punishment for a certain class of felons, … it is not … an inevitable inference that the Legislature intended its punishment-mitigating provisions to apply to those sentenced to prison before the amendment’s effective date as well as those sentenced after that date.”

The court distinguished the situation involving section 4019, which allows some felons to accrue conduct credit by working and/or complying with rules, from the situation in Estrada, where the legislation reduced the penalty for a specific offense.  The court stated that the amendment of section 4019 indicates a legislative intent “to increase the incentive for good conduct during presentence confinement.”

The court concluded that “the amendment cannot act as incentive as to those persons who, like [Rodriguez], have completed their presentence confinement prior to the effective date of the amendment,” therefore the Legislature could not have anticipated applying it retroactively.

Furthermore, 4019 was designed “to increase the conduct credit accrual rate, [and] was introduced and enacted to “address the fiscal emergency declared by the Governor …” regarding overcrowding in the prison system.  However, said the court, unlike the situation inEstrada, “although under the amendment to section 4019 a subset of felons will serve less time in prison, it is does not necessarily follow that the Legislature determined the punishment to which these persons were subject under the former version of section 4019 was “too severe ….”

It wasn’t because penalties were too severe but rather “for fiscal reasons [that] prison populations must be reduced, and accomplishing this reduction by the early release of felons, who have indicated they are less dangerous than others by refraining from serious, violent and/or sex offenses, strikes the proper balance between the state’s fiscal concerns and its public safety concerns.”   Therefore, held the court, “we conclude the Legislature intended that 2010 amendment to section 4019 apply prospectively only.”


This would appear to clear up the ambiguity in the statute as to whether the new way to compute good time credits apply to time one was incarcerated prior to January 25, 2010 -it does not apply retroactively.  It would also appear, upon reading the decision, that the conclusion will apply to time sentenced to county jail, as well as to state prison.

Obviously, this may still be taken up to the California Supreme Court, and/or a different district court of appeal may issue a contrary ruling but, for now, the matter appears to have  been resolved and the conduct credit applies to sentenced prisoners only as of, and after, January 25, 2010.

In the meantime, and in order to insure that this decision remains law, the California State Sheriffs Association is sponsoring legislation which would resolve this dispute through an amendment to the appropriate statute.  The introductory paragraph, articulating the legislative intent, follows:

Section 2933 of the   Penal Code   is amended to read:

2933. “ (a) It is the intent of the Legislature that persons convicted of a crime and sentenced  to the state prison under Section 1170 serve the entire sentence imposed by the court, except for a reduction in the time served in the custody of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation pursuant to this section and Section 2933.05.”

There is no author as of this moment, but it is anticipated that it will be authored by a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

As with all legal issues, it is important to secure advice and guidance from your agency’s designated legal counsel.  If you wish to discuss this case in greater detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (714) 446-1400.