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Steven West v. Robert Dooley


December 29, 2010



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Zinter, Justice



[¶1.] Steven West petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the Department of Correction's calculation of the time he must serve on two consecutive sentences. The dispute involves the manner of calculating good-conduct credit under SDCL 24-5-1. The habeas court affirmed the Department's calculation, which applied the statutory formula to each sentence separately. West appeals, arguing that the total time to be served under both sentences should be aggregated before applying the statute. We affirm the Department's calculation.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] On July 1, 1998, Steven West was sentenced to 71/2 years in the state penitentiary for sexual contact with a child (his "first sentence"). On the same day, he was sentenced to 71/2 years for sexual contact with another child (his "second sentence"). The second sentence was to run consecutively to the first. [¶3.] West is an "old-system" inmate because his offenses were committed before July 1, 1996. See SDCL 24-15A-1. As an old-system inmate, West was entitled to a reduction of his sentences for good conduct (colloquially referred to as "good time") under SDCL 24-5-1. That statute provides that an inmate's sentence will be reduced four months per year for good conduct during the first nine years of the "sentence" and six months per year during the tenth year and each succeeding year of the "sentence." The statute provides:

Every inmate sentenced for any term less than life, or who has had an indeterminate sentence set at a term of years, or who has had a life sentence commuted to a term of years, and subject to the provisions of §§ 24-2-17 and 24-2-18, is entitled to a deduction of four months from his or her sentence for each year and pro rata for any part of a year for the first year to the tenth, and six months for the tenth year and for each year thereafter until the expiration of the period of the sentence as pronounced by the court, for good conduct.

SDCL 24-5-1.

[¶4.] The Department calculated West's total time to serve by allowing good-time credit of 21/2 years on each 71/2 -year sentence. The Department's calculation was as follows:

First Sentence: 71/2 years X 4 months/year = 30 months 30 months/12 = 21/2 years 71/2 years -- 21/2 years = 5 years to serve

Second Sentence: 71/2 years X 4 months/year = 30 months 30 months/12 = 21/2 years 71/2 years -- 21/2 years = 5 years to serve

Total time to serve: 5 years 5 years = 10 years Under this calculation, West completed serving his first 71/2 -year sentence on May 14, 2003.*fn1 West then commenced serving his second sentence. Allowing 21/2 years good-time credit on the second 71/2 -year sentence, the Department determined that West would complete serving his second sentence on May 14, 2008.

[¶5.] West contended that his good-time credit should have been calculated by adding his 71/2 -year sentences together before applying SDCL 24-5-1. In other words, West contended that the separate sentences should be aggregated to a total of fifteen years before the statutory formula was applied. West proposed a calculation as follows:

First Sentence of 71/2 years Second Sentence of 71/2 years = 15 years 9 years X 4 months/year = 36 months 6 years X 6 months/year = 36 months 36 months 36 months = 72 months 72 months/12 = 6 years good time

Total time to serve: 15 years -- 6 years good-time credit = 9 years

Under West's calculation, he would have completed serving both sentences in nine years, one year earlier than under the Department's calculation. [¶6.] The habeas court concluded that "SDCL 24-5-1 does not have aggregation language," and that the court should not supply words that the Legislature did not include in the statute. Statutory interpretation is a matter of law that this Court reviews de novo. In re B.Y. Dev. Inc ., 2010 S.D. 57, ¶ 7, 785 N.W.2d 296, 299.


[¶7.] West relies on Anderson v. S.D. Bd. of Pardons and Paroles , 1999 S.D. 41, 590 N.W.2d 915, for the proposition that consecutive sentences are to be added together and good time is to be calculated on the aggregate time to serve. Our reading of Anderson dictates the opposite conclusion.

[¶8.] In Anderson,

the defendant received consecutive sentences of seven years and five years, and he was ordered to serve the seven-year sentence first. Anderson was later paroled, but his parole was subsequently revoked. In the revocation proceeding, the parole board initially revoked the twenty-eight months of good time that Anderson had acquired on the seven-year sentence. The board later amended its order and revoked the twenty months of good time that he had acquired on the five-year sentence. Id. ¶ 5, 590 N.W.2d at 916. Anderson appealed, arguing that he had completed the five-year sentence and good time could not be revoked from a completed sentence. Id. ¶ 7, 590 N.W.2d at 916.

[¶9.] In resolving that issue, this Court held that the parole board was authorized to revoke the good time on both sentences. We stated that the parole board was correct in its original revocation of the twenty-eight months of good time relating to Anderson's seven-year sentence, and the board was also correct in revoking the twenty months of good time relating to his five-year sentence. Id. ¶ 11, 590 N.W.2d at 917. Notably, this holding acknowledged that the good time was calculated separately on each sentence.

[¶10.] West, however, relies on two other statements in the Anderson analysis. Anderson stated that aggregation "is reflected in SDCL 24-15-7 . . . which require[s] the time to be served for consecutive sentences to be added together to determine parole eligibility." Id. ¶ 10, 590 N.W.2d at 917. West also notes that Anderson cited Grant v. Hunter , 166 F.2d 673, 674 (10th Cir. 1948), for the proposition that with respect to good time, "the imprisonment of one serving consecutive sentences is considered a single term, consisting of the aggregate of such sentences for the purpose of computing good time allowance." Id.¶ 9, 590 N.W.2d at 917. West argues that by these statements "[t]his Court appeared to be giving an indication . . . that SDCL 24-5-1 should be interpreted to have good time calculated on the aggregate term similar to the way parole is calculated." We disagree for two reasons.

[¶11.] First, Anderson's language describing SDCL 24-15-7 has no relevance here. SDCL 24-15-7 is a parole eligibility statute rather than a statute governing the calculation of good time. Second, although Anderson cited aggregation language from Grant , Grant is a federal case applying a federal statute specifically requiring that consecutive sentences be added together for calculating good time. SDCL 24-5-1 does not have aggregation language found in the federal statute*fn2 or SDCL 24-15-7.*fn3 For these reasons, West's cited language from Anderson does not apply to today's issue involving the calculation of good-time credit under SDCL 24-5-1.

[¶12.] Instead, Anderson's language supports the Department's calculation. Anderson observed that the defendant's good-time credits had been calculated separately for each sentence (twenty-eight months for the first seven-year sentence and twenty months for the second five-year sentence). We indicated that separate good-time calculations "explain[] the difference between the twenty-eight months of good time applicable to Anderson's seven[-]year sentence and the twenty months of good time applicable to his five[-]year sentence." Id. ¶ 5 n.3, 590 N.W.2d at 916 n.3 (citing SDCL 24-5-1). We added: "The good time related to a particular sentence is calculated according to the duration of that sentence." Id . (emphasis added). Thus, Anderson impliedly recognized that good-time credit is calculated separately for each particular sentence.

[¶13.] West finally argues that SDCL 24-5-1 should not require separate calculations on each sentence simply because the statute refers to reducing a "sentence" rather than the "sentences." West notes that SDCL 2-14-6 provides that "[w]ords used in the singular number include the plural, and the plural, the singular, except where a contrary intention plainly appears." But linguistically, SDCL 24-5-1 does not make sense if the word "sentence" is simply changed from singular to plural the four times it appears in the statute. Moreover, if aggregation had been intended, the Legislature would have used aggregation language. For example, the Legislature specifically stated that consecutive sentences should be "added together" in calculating parole eligibility under SDCL 24-15-7. See supra note 3. But the Legislature did not use any similar language suggesting aggregation in SDCL 24-5-1.

[¶14.] "In interpreting legislation, this Court cannot add language that simply is not there." City of Deadwood v. Gustafson Family Trust, 2010 S.D. 5, ¶ 9, 777 N.W.2d 628, 632. See also State v. Koerner, 1999 S.D. 161, ¶ 9, 603 N.W.2d 718, 722 ("[This Court] cannot pose as legislators to amend a statute to read what it plainly does not say."). Because there is no aggregation language in SDCL 24-5-1, we affirm.

[¶15.] GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and KONENKAMP, MEIERHENRY, and, SEVERSON, Justices, concur.

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