August 18, 2014 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
Marilyn Hartman, the 62-year old woman sentenced to 180 days in Los Angeles County jail after repeatedly getting caught as a “stow away” on a Southwest Airlines flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles, was released after serving 6 days of her 180 day sentence. The press is reporting this like this is something new, but it’s not. This has been going on for years. Due to extensive overcrowding, people routinely only serve a fraction of their probationary sentences in Los Angeles County jail. How does this happen?
Here’s how it works, and let’s use Ms. Hartman’s case as an example: Ms. Hartman was sentenced at the Airport Courthouse to serve 180 days in county jail for violating her probation. She already had credit for three days. In LA County jail inmates get two days credit for every two days served. So going into her sentence, she already had six days credit. Also consider that inmates sentenced to county jail on probationary sentences, and are not convicted of crimes involving violence, generally serve 5% to 10% of their sentences. She was released three days after her sentence began, this means she had a total of 12 days credit. Which is somewhere between 5% and 10% of her total sentence. Nothing unusual. Very standard.
Now let’s be clear: This is only the case for probationary jail sentences. In California, many state prison sentences are now served in county jail, however these are still considered state prison sentences. While the credit calculation remains the same as for probationary sentences, inmates on state prison sentences served in the county jail generally serve their time. If it’s a half time sentence, they’ll serve all of the half time.
You may be wondering why the courts tolerate this. After all, if a judge sentences someone to a sentence, shouldn’t they be expected to serve it?
I’m sure many judges believe that, but it’s not the way it works. Once a judge sentences a defendant to county jail, the defendant is in the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s department runs the county jails and the sheriff’s department decides how long inmates will serve.
With the massive overcrowding in California’s state prisons leading to the use of county jails for inmates who would ordinarily be in state prison, there simply is not enough room for non-violent low-level offenders. As a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, I think this is good policy. Even if there weren’t overcrowding issues, there is no reason for low-level offenders to be sentenced to any jail, let alone a lengthy sentence.
If you are a loved one is in need of the services of a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or via the secure contact form on this page.