In April 2018, the Del Norte County District Attorney charged defendant Jimmy Yang with one count of assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code § 245(a)(1)) and one count of child abuse (Penal Code § 273a(a)). The charges stemmed from an incident during which Mr. Yang struck his father in the head with a flashlight and kicked a juvenile down the stairs.
On April 9, 2018, the judge suspended proceedings pursuant to Penal Code § 1368, finding Mr. Yang incompetent to stand trial and committed him to the Department of State Hospitals.
Mr. Yang was then taken to Napa State Hospital on August 13, 2018, and approximately a year later, on August 7, 2019, the medical director of the state hospital certified that Mr. Yang was competent to stand trial and he was transported back to the Del Norte County Jail.
On August 14, 2019, the trial court judge found Mr. Yang competent and reinstated criminal proceedings.
In late August, Mr. Yang pled no contest to an amended count of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (Penal Code § 245(a)(4)). In accordance with the terms of his plea bargain, the judge imposed a four-year prison sentence, but suspended imposition of its execution (a “Joint Suspended”) and placed Mr. Yang on formal probation for three years.
By April of 2020, or just eight months later, the probation department filed a petition for revocation of probation, followed by five additional petitions over the next year.
Ultimately, the judge executed the previously imposed sentence. At his May 13, 2021, sentencing hearing, Mr. Yang objected to the probation department’s recommendation that the judge only impose actual time credit for Mr. Yang’s almost one year spent at Napa State Hospital.
Mr. Yang argued, on equal protection grounds, that because Penal Code § 4019(a)(8) had been amended under Senate Bill 1187 to permit conduct credit for defendants found incompetent to stand trial (IST) while receiving treatment to regain competency while in count jail, he should also receive conduct credit for the time he spent receiving competency treatment at the state hospital.
As the reader may be aware, Penal Code § 4019 provides for “good time, work time” credits for pre-sentence custody time. Enacted in 1976, 4019 provides that defendants confined in specific facilities and various settings may earn conduct credit for performing assigned labor and for complying with applicable rules and regulations.
Most people understand section 4019 as “two for one credits,” but the statute says, at §§ 4019(b) – (c) that for every four-day period an inmate is confined or committed to an enumerated facility or other listed setting, one day will be deducted from the inmate’s sentence for satisfactory performance of assigned labor and one day will be deducted for good behavior. Subdivision (f) states, “[I]f all days are earned under this section, a term of four days will be deemed to have been served for every two days spent in actual custody.”
The trial court judge rejected Mr. Yang’s argument, stating that had the Legislature intended for state hospital competency detainees to receive conduct credit, it would have provided for that. The judge then awarded Mr. Yang 614 actual time credit and 254 days of conduct credit based on his time served in county jail.
Mr. Yang appealed this sentencing issue to the First Appellate District, which reversed the trial court, agreeing with Mr. Yang that he should have received conduct credit for his time spent at Napa State Hospital receiving competency treatment.
The appellate court agreed with Mr. Yang that the trial court had adopted a classification that affects two or more similarly situated groups in an unequal manner. For equal protection cases affecting fundamental rights (like here, the right to freedom and when one could be free of jail), the court applies a strict scrutiny evaluation, which requires the state to establish that there is a compelling state interest which justifies the different treatment and such distinctions are necessary to promote that state interest.
Here, the two groups, IST defendants receiving competency treatment in state hospitals and county jails, were similarly situated since they were subject to the same IST standards and both were committed for treatment aimed at allowing trial to proceed. A fundamental right, the right not to be in jail for longer than legally necessary was involved and affected one group, those receiving IST treatment in a state hospital, differently from another group. Then the People failed to show a compelling state interest to justify the disparate treatment.
Thus, the appellate court ordered the trial court to award Mr. Yang conduct credits for his time spent at Napa State Hospital.
We present this summary because in the area of IST defendants, judges, defense attorneys and even the families of IST defendants often do not fight for their rights because, perhaps, the understanding is why does it matter if they are incompetent anyway. Families often abandon hope in such defendants and judges take a more casual approach to their rights, sadly.
For more information about custody credit issues, please click on the following articles: