Supreme Court of California Justia
Docket No. S106706
In re Young

Filed 4/15/04



In re
on Habeas Corpus.
Ct.App. 2/6 B155373

San Luis Obispo County
Super. Ct. No. HC3772

We must decide whether the Director of Corrections’ discretion to reduce a
prisoner’s sentence up to 12 months for “perform[ing] a heroic act in a life-
threatening situation” (Pen. Code,1 § 2935), is subject to the “Three Strikes” law’s
limitation on postsentence credits to 20 percent of the prisoner’s sentence. (§§
667, subd. (c)(5) (hereinafter section 667(c)(5)); 1170.12, subd. (a)(5).)
We conclude that a “reduction of the sentence” under section 2935 is
distinct from credits under the Three Strikes law, and thus, is not subject to its 20
percent limitation. (§§ 667(c)(5), 1170.12, subd. (a)(5).) Accordingly, we reverse
the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which held to the contrary.

All further statutory references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise

This background is largely taken from the Court of Appeal’s opinion.
In 1996, petitioner pleaded guilty to first degree burglary and was
sentenced to nine years in state prison. He also had a prior felony conviction,
which subjected him to the Three Strikes law. In January 2001, while serving his
prison sentence, petitioner saved the life of his work supervisor, Bud Stocking, by
performing the Heimlich maneuver and dislodging food blocking Stocking’s
airway. Stocking had motioned another inmate to help, but that inmate refused.
Petitioner requested the Department of Corrections (Department) to reduce
his sentence based on this event. (§ 2935.) Stocking expressed gratitude to
petitioner for his actions, but the Department denied petitioner’s request because
he had already been awarded the maximum amount of credit permitted under the
Three Strikes law. (§§ 667(c)(5), 1170.12, subd. (a)(5).) Petitioner filed a petition
for a writ of habeas corpus, which the superior court summarily denied. The Court
of Appeal issued an order to show cause, but later denied the petition.
Relying on what it considered to be the plain language of section 667, the
Court of Appeal majority held that the sentence reduction under section 2935 is
subject to the 20 percent limitation of credits under section 667(c)(5). The
majority concluded, “It would elevate form over substance to conclude that a
reduction differs from a credit.” However, the majority reached its conclusion
“regretfully”: “We publish this opinion to urge the Legislature to amend section
667 so that such an inmate is theoretically eligible to receive a reduction of
sentence pursuant to section 2935.”
Presiding Justice Gilbert, in dissent, agreed with petitioner that section
2935’s sentence reduction was unrelated to credits under the Three Strikes law.
He found it significant that section 667(c)(5) and section 2935 employ different
language. He joined the majority’s urging to amend section 667.

Defendants who are serving their determinate prison sentences may earn
prison conduct credits to “shorten the period of incarceration.” (People v. Cooper
(2002) 27 Cal.4th 38, 40; § 2931 [good behavior/participation credit available to
persons who committed crimes before 1983], § 2933 [worktime credits].)
Another way defendants may shorten their period of incarceration is by
performing a heroic act under section 2935. The Three Strikes law, however,
limits the amount of credits available under article 2.5 to 20 percent of the
defendant’s sentence. (§§ 667(c)(5), 1170.12, subd. (a)(5).) The question is, does
a “reduction of the sentence” under section 2935 constitute a credit for purposes of
the Three Strikes law? We conclude that it does not.
As part of the Three Strikes law amending section 667 in 1994, section
667(c)(5) provides that a recidivist prisoner’s postsentence conduct credits may
not exceed 20 percent of the sentence: “Notwithstanding any other law . . . [¶] . . .
[t]he total amount of credits awarded pursuant to Article 2.5 (commencing with
Section 2930) of Chapter 7 of Title 1 of Part 3 shall not exceed one-fifth of the
total term of imprisonment imposed and shall not accrue until the defendant is
physically placed in the state prison.”2 (See In re Martinez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 29,
34 [“recidivist with a prior strike may earn postsentence credits only up to 20
percent of the total prison sentence”].)
Enacted in 1982 and not amended since then, section 2935 provides in full:
“Under the guidelines prescribed by the rules and regulations of the director,[3] the

Section 1170.12, subdivision (a)(5), part of the Three Strikes law passed by
initiative in 1994, provides essentially the same. For ease of reference, we will
refer only to section 667(c)(5) throughout.
California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3043, subdivision (h),
provides that an inmate may receive up to 12 months reduction of sentence for

(footnote continued on next page)

Director of Corrections may grant up to 12 additional months of reduction of the
sentence to a prisoner who has performed a heroic act in a life-threatening
situation, or who has provided exceptional assistance in maintaining the safety and
security of a prison.” (See Dix v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 442, 462-463.)
Our task is to determine the meaning of and relationship between sections
667(c)(5) and 2935 in this context. “We begin by examining the words of the
respective statutes; if the statutory language is not ambiguous, then we presume
the Legislature meant what it said, and the plain meaning of the language governs.
[Citations.] If, however, the statutory language lacks clarity, we may resort to
extrinsic sources, including the ostensible objects to be achieved and the
legislative history. [Citation.] In such situations, we strive to select the
construction that comports most closely with the Legislature’s apparent intent,
with a view to promoting rather than defeating the statutes’ general purposes.”
(People v. Walker (2002) 29 Cal.4th 577, 581.)
The Three Strikes law’s limitation on postsentence credits applies
“[n]otwithstanding any other law.” (§ 667(c)(5).) We recently affirmed that this
language “ ‘eliminates potential conflicts between alternative sentencing schemes’
by providing that for defendants with a qualifying prior conviction, the Three
Strikes law ‘takes the place of whatever law would otherwise determine . . .
sentence for the current offense.’ ” (People v. Acosta (2002) 29 Cal.4th 105, 132
[§ 667, subd. (f)(1)].) By its own terms, section 667(c)(5) applies to “credits

(footnote continued from previous page)

“(1) Acts preventing loss of life or injury to the public, staff, or other inmates. [¶]
(2) Acts preventing significant loss or destruction of property. [¶] (3) Providing
sworn testimony in judicial proceedings involving prosecution of a felony offense
which occurred within the prison.”

awarded pursuant to Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 2930) . . . .” Thus, we
have held that section 2933 governing prison worktime credits is subject to section
667(c)(5)’s 20 percent limitation. (People v. Buckhalter (2001) 26 Cal.4th 20, 32.)
Although agreeing that section 2935 is part of article 2.5, petitioner
maintains that section 2935 does not include the term “credits,” and cites other
provisions in article 2.5 that do include that term. As such, “petitioner submits
that when the Legislature subsequently used the term credits, as it did in section
667, it should be construed to refer only to statutes using that term.” We agree.
Section 2935 gives the Director discretion to grant a prisoner up to “12
additional months of reduction of the sentence” for performing a heroic act.
Unlike section 2935, provisions governing good behavior and participation credits
available to persons who committed crimes before 1983 (§ 2931), worktime
credits (§ 2933), and those provisions referring to sections 2931 or 2933 in article
2.5 (§§ 2932, 2932.5, 2933.1, 2933.2, 2933.3, 2933.6, 2934) all include the term
The absence of the term “credit” in section 2935 is significant because the
20 percent limitation expressly applies to “credits” awarded under article 2.5. (§
667(c)(5).) “Where a statute referring to one subject contains a critical word or
phrase, omission of that word or phrase from a similar statute on the same subject
generally shows a different legislative intent.” (Craven v. Crout (1985) 163
Cal.App.3d 779, 783.)4 Indeed, section 190, which sets forth the punishment for
murder, provides that “Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 2930) of Chapter 7

The fact that section 2935 is contained in article 2.5, entitled Credit on
Term of Imprisonment, is not dispositive. As petitioner correctly observes, article
headings are unofficial and do not affect the scope, meaning, or intent of a statute.
(People v. Tufunga (1999) 21 Cal.4th 935, 948, citing § 10004.)

of Title 1 of Part 3 shall not apply to reduce any minimum term of a sentence
imposed pursuant to this section.” (§ 190, subd. (e).) In contrast to section
667(c)(5), section 190, subdivision (e), contains broad language that would
arguably govern any “reduction” under section 2935. Finally, the term
“additional” in section 2935 suggests that a sentence reduction under this
provision is above and beyond the credit available under sections 2931 and 2933.
This interpretation would avoid rendering the term “additional” superfluous.
(People v. Aguilar (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1023, 1030.)
The legislative history of the Three Strikes law also supports this
conclusion. That history suggests that the 20 percent limitation applies to only
postsentence conduct credits in article 2.5 (e.g., §§ 2931, 2933). The revised
analysis of Assembly Bill No. 971, which amended section 667, stated: “This bill
provides that: [¶] . . . [¶] 2. A person who has been convicted of one or more prior
serious or violent felonies be limited to good-time/work-time credits not to exceed
one-fifth of the total term of imprisonment imposed, for any new felony.” (Off. of
Sen. Floor Analyses, Rep. to Sen. Rules Com. on Assem. Bill No. 971 (1993-1994
Reg. Sess.) Mar. 2, 1994, p. 1, italics added; In re Cervera (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1073,
1083-1084 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J.).)
The difference between a sentence reduction and a credit is not merely
semantic in this context. There is a qualitative difference between a sentence
reduction based on a heroic act (§ 2935) and postsentence conduct credits (§§
2931, 2933). Sections 2931 and 2933 serve to encourage a prisoner’s conformity
to prison regulations and his participation in rehabilitative activities to facilitate
reintegration into society. (People v. Saffell (1979) 25 Cal.3d 223, 233; People v.
Caruso (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 13, 19.) By working and not engaging in
misconduct in prison, i.e., activities that generally affect only the prisoner himself,
a prisoner may earn credits toward reducing his determinate sentence. (§§ 2931,

2932, 2933.) Section 2935, however, is substantially different because it rewards
a prisoner’s selfless act of heroism, which may save the life of another. In this
case, petitioner saved the life of his work supervisor when another prisoner
refused to help. As petitioner emphasizes, his heroic act in prison was particularly
significant because other prisoners may have become hostile toward him for
helping “the enemy,” and prison guards could have misconstrued petitioner’s
actions as attacking rather than saving the supervisor.
The Legislature has treated a heroic act reduction (§ 2935) differently than
conduct credits in other respects also. For instance, section 2932, subdivision
(a)(1), provides that “any time credit accumulated pursuant to Section 2931 or to
Section 2933” may be “denied or lost” under certain circumstances. In contrast,
section 2935 is not subject to section 2932’s limitations. Thus, a one-time
sentence reduction for a heroic act, which act will presumably occur infrequently,
may not be denied or lost either partially or completely based on a prisoner’s
misconduct. Indeed, unlike sections 2931 and 2933, section 2935 by its own terms
is not expressly limited to determinate sentences. (§§ 2931, subd. (a) [provision
applicable to sentences under § 1170], 2933, subd. (a) [same]; People v.
Buckhalter, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 31; but see § 190, subd. (e) [“Article 2.5 . . .
shall not apply to reduce any minimum term of a sentence imposed pursuant to
this section”].) These differences further demonstrate that the Legislature
considered a sentence reduction under section 2935 qualitatively and functionally
distinct from postsentence conduct credits (§§ 2931, 2933).
In prison, where correctional officers and other employees face substantial
dangers already, encouraging prisoners to behave in a manner that might save
lives is commendable and necessary. A contrary interpretation of sections
667(c)(5) and 2935 would create a disincentive for Three Strikes prisoners who
have reached their maximum credit limit to “perform[] a heroic act in a life-

threatening situation.” (§ 2935.) It is difficult to imagine that the Legislature
intended to give all prisoners, except those Three Strikes prisoners, an incentive to
save another’s life. Moreover, as petitioner notes, subjecting section 2935 to the
20 percent limitation under section 667(c)(5) could create the anomalous result of
rewarding prison misconduct. For instance, if two Three Strikes prisoners who
have reached their 20 percent limit both perform a heroic act, only the prisoner
who engages in misconduct and thus loses time credit under section 2932 would
be eligible for a sentence reduction under section 2935.
The purpose of the Three Strikes law is “to ensure longer prison sentences
and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously
convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.” (§ 667, subd. (b) [legislative
intent applicable to subds. (b)-(i) inclusive].) Allowing Three Strikes prisoners to
receive at most a one-year sentence reduction for performing a heroic act (§ 2935)
does not undermine this purpose: these recidivist prisoners are still serving longer
sentences than first-time offenders. Moreover, “our decisions make clear that this
purpose is not a mantra that the prosecution can invoke in any Three Strikes case
to compel the court to construe the statute so as to impose the longest possible
sentence.” (People v. Garcia (1999) 20 Cal.4th 490, 501.)

We reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment and remand the cause for
proceedings consistent with this opinion.5


We are advised that petitioner has been released from prison on parole.
Notwithstanding his release, a sentence reduction under section 2935 may still
benefit petitioner by reducing his parole period. (See In re Reina (1985) 171
Cal.App.3d 638, 642; In re Ballard (1981) 115 Cal.App.3d 647, 649.)

See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion In re Young on Habeas Corpus

Unpublished Opinion

Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 98 Cal.App.4th 166
Rehearing Granted


Opinion No.

Date Filed: April 15, 2004


County: San Luis Obispo
Judge: James D. Ream


Attorneys for Appellant:

David H. Goodwin for Petitioner Ronnie E. Young.


Attorneys for Respondent:

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Paul D. Gifford,
Assistant Attorney General, Susan Duncan Lee, Julie L. Garland and Heather L. Bushman, Deputy
Attorneys General, for Respondent the People.


Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

David H. Goodwin
P.O. Box 93579
Los Angeles, CA 90093-0579
(323) 666-9960

Heather L. Bushman
Deputy Attorney General
110 West “A” Street, Suite 1100
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 645-2390


Opinion Information
Date:Docket Number:
Thu, 04/15/2004S106706

1Young, Ronnie E. (Petitioner)
Represented by David H. Goodwin
Attorney At Law
P O Box 93579
Los Angeles, CA

2Young, Ronnie E. (Petitioner)
Represented by California Appellate Project - La
520 South Grand Avenue, Suite 400
520 South Grand Avenue, Suite 400
Los Angeles, CA

3The People (Non-Title Respondent)
Represented by Attorney General - San Diego Office
Heather L. Bushman, DAG
P.O. Box 85266
San Diego, CA

Apr 15 2004Opinion: Reversed

May 14 2002Received premature petition for review
May 15 2002Received Court of Appeal record
  1-file jacket
Jun 6 2002Petition for review filed
  counsel for petitioner
Jul 24 2002Time extended to grant or deny review
  to and including September 4, 2002.
Aug 14 2002Petition for Review Granted (criminal case)
  Votes: George, CJ., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Brown and Moreno, JJ.
Sep 4 2002Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, David H. Goodwin is hereby appointed to represent appellant on his appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits shall be served and filed on or before 30 days from the date of this order.
Sep 23 2002Opening brief on the merits filed
  petitioner Ronnie E. Young
Sep 23 2002Request for judicial notice filed (in non-AA proceeding)
  petitioner Ronnie E. Young
Oct 23 2002Answer brief on the merits filed
  in San Diego by AG for respondent (People).
Oct 31 2002Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  by petitioner Ronnie E. Young
Nov 13 2002Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Goodwin
Jan 14 2004Case ordered on calendar
  Wednesday, February 11, 2004 @ 9am (Sacramento)
Jan 21 2004Request for judicial notice granted
  Petitioner's request for judicial notice, filed September 23, 2002, is granted.
Feb 11 2004Cause argued and submitted
Apr 15 2004Opinion filed: Judgment reversed
  and remanded. Opinion by: Chin, J. -------joined by : George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar,Brown & Moreno, JJ.
May 19 2004Remittitur issued (criminal case)
May 25 2004Received:
  compensation claim for attorney David H. Goodwin
May 28 2004Returned record
  To 2 DCA Division 6
Jun 1 2004Received:
  Receipt for remittitur from 2 DCA Div. 6.
Jun 16 2004Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Goodwin

Sep 23 2002Opening brief on the merits filed
Oct 23 2002Answer brief on the merits filed
Oct 31 2002Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website