13 December 2018

Finding the 85%

Virginia law requires anyone convicted of a felony to serve 85% of the time he is sentenced to serve. We all know this. It was part of the Truth in Sentencing reforms that went into place in 1995 and we've all told officers, defendants, victims and judges that it's 85% ever since.

And then comes the day I have to prove it. I know where it's going to be in the code: Title 53.1. - Prisons and Other Methods of Correction, Chapter 6 - Commencement of Terms; Credits and Allowances. Or at least I think I do. 

Articles 2 and 3 of Title 53.1 are about the old parole systems, although each of them has been specifically limited to convictions prior to 1995. Article 1 is just comprised of general statutes. That means the 85% limitation must be somewhere in Article 4: Earned Sentence Credits for Persons Committed Upon Felony Offenses Committed on or After January 1, 1995.

Only I can't find 85% anywhere. I do a search of the entire Title for 85% - no luck. I do a search for 15% - no luck. Stymied, I go off to other less likely titles. I do the same searches in Title 19.2 (Criminal Procedure) - nope - and then go on to 18.2 (Criminal Law). Nope again. Getting a little desperate, I even go off to read the sentencing guidelines statutes, §§ 17.1-800 through 17.1-806, to no avail.

There being no other options, I read all of Article 53.1, including the parts no longer applied in modern courts, sure that 85% will be tucked in some nook or cranny. No. Then I read it again. No 85% anywhere.

Long before I got to this point, I became well and truly convinced that it was somewhere in something I'd read. And reread. And reread. So, I decided to alter the way I was examining the statutes. I started looking at every number laid out in them to see if that could lead me to what I was missing.

Et voilĂ ! Eureka! Bingo! Gadzooks!

It was in § 53.1-202.3. In fact, it was the first sentence of § 53.1-202.3: "A maximum of four and one-half sentence credits may be earned for each 30 days served." (a sentence credit is a day)

That is an unnecessarily strained and just out-and-out weird way to say "only 15% of a sentence may be subtracted for good behavior." They could at least use a ten day example so the math would be easier: "A maximum of one and one-half sentence credits may be earned for each 10 days served."


An hour of searching down the drain because of awkward, strange wording. Oh well, if math were easy everybody could do it. At least everybody but me.

And lunch break is 5 minutes from ending so I've actually got to go do the stuff I get paid to.