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SJC Clarifies Trial Court Judge’s Authority to Award Jail Credits

jail-1211438-200x300The Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a decision – Commonwealth v. Lydon – clarifying the trial court’s authority to award jail credit to defendants.  In the decision, the Court vacated the judge’s “order denying [the defendant’s] motion for credit for time being served in a house of correction for one set of offenses, while he was awaiting trial and sentencing in the Superior Court on a second, unrelated set of offenses.”

The background was as follows. “While the defendant was on probation for various drug offenses (Roxbury charges), he was arrested and arraigned in the District Court for three new robbery offenses, for which he later was indicted and arraigned in the Superior Court (Dorchester charges). About five weeks after his arrest on the Dorchester charges, the defendant stipulated to violation of the conditions of his probation, was sentenced on the Roxbury charges, and began serving a six-month committed sentence in the house of correction. One hundred and thirty-two days later (while he was serving the Roxbury sentence), he pleaded guilty to the Dorchester charges, and was given a committed sentence to State prison ‘forthwith and notwithstanding’ the Roxbury sentence. The sentencing judge credited against the Dorchester sentence the thirty-six days the defendant had been held before sentencing on the Roxbury charges, but denied the defendant’s motion for additional credit for the 132 days he already had served on the existing Roxbury sentence. The defendant [did] not argue that he was entitled as of right to a 132-day jail credit on the Dorchester sentence. Instead, his claim [was] that a judge has discretion to authorize such credit in these circumstances for two reasons: first, under Commonwealth v. Ridge, 470 Mass. 1024, 1025 (2015), a judge has discretion to award jail credit directly; and, second, a judge has discretion to effectively authorize a credit by imposing a concurrent sentence in a separate case nunc pro tunc to the commencement of the prior sentence.”

In its decision, the SJC “reject[ed] the [defendant’s] first contention, but agree[d] with the second point.” As to the first, the Court opined that “Ridge … does not support the defendant’s claim that a direct award of jail credit is discretionary in these circumstances.” “Ridge did not involve credit ‘against [one sentence] for the time [a defendant] was incarcerated on an unrelated … sentence,’ Ledbetter v. Commonwealth, 456 Mass. 1007, 1009 (2010), and the motion judge properly ruled that the defendant was not entitled to jail credit on that basis.” As to the defendant’s second contention, the Court stated, “The judge ordered the defendant’s State prison sentence on the Dorchester charges to take effect ‘forthwith and notwithstanding’ the house of correction sentence then being served on the Roxbury charges…. Pursuant to G.L. c.279, §27, the effect of such a sentence is that ‘the sentence then being served in the jail or house of correction is terminated and the prisoner is “discharged at the expiration of his [State prison] sentence.”’ Dale [v. Commissioner of Correction, 17 Mass. App. Ct. 247, 249 (1983)], quoting Kinney, petitioner, 5 Mass. App. Ct. 457, 461 n.3 (1977). We agree with the defendant that the judge also had discretion to consider whether the circumstances warranted imposition of the concurrent State prison sentence nunc pro tunc to the commencement of the house of correction sentence…. [However,] the judge did not recognize [that he had] discretionary authority” in that regard. “Because the judge did not consider whether to exercise his discretion,” the SJC “vacate[d] the judge’s order denying the [defendant’s] motion for jail credit, and remand[ed] for reconsideration of the motion.”

Being incarcerated has a long reaching impact on a person’s life, both personally and professionally.  In the unfortunate event that a court imposes a committed sentence, it is of the utmost importance that a defendant receives as much credit for such time as possible.  If you or a loved one is facing a committed sentence, you will need an experienced attorney to assess your case, evaluated all possible options, and be ready and able to get the best outcome for you at every opportunity.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta fights for all his clients – from bail to jail credits.  Call him for a free consultation.