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SHELTON v. U.S.

December 24, 1998

LEE E. SHELTON, APPELLANT,
V.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, SHELLIE F. BOWERS, J. [721 A2d Page 604]

Before Steadman and Ruiz, Associate Judges, and RANKIN[fn*], Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. [fn*] Sitting by designation pursuant to D.C.Code § 11-707(a) (1995).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge:

In this appeal, we are asked to construe provisions of the Good Time Credits Act of 1986, specifically D.C.Code § 24-431(a), (c) (1996), and their interaction with the Sexual Psychopath Act ("SPA") enacted in 1948, D.C.Code §§ 22-3503 to -3511 (1996). The precise issue before us is whether a defendant may receive credit for time spent confined under the SPA at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where the trial court orders and the defendant serves that confinement subsequent to a guilty plea to sexual offenses but prior to sentencing on the plea. We hold that such credit must be given in the circumstances here.

I.

In April 1990, Appellant Lee Shelton pled guilty to two counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor child, D.C.Code § 22-3501(a) (1981) (repealed 1995), and four counts of simple assault. Prior to sentencing on these offenses, Shelton moved to compel the government to file a sexual psychopath statement under the SPA. *fn1 Over the government's objection, the trial court granted the motion and the statement was filed on December 21, 1990. On April 3, 1991, following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court adjudicated Shelton a sexual psychopath and ordered him committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital for an indefinite term under D.C.Code § 22-3508. *fn1

After spending more than four and a half years in the John Howard Pavilion at St. ElizabethS, *fn2 Shelton filed an unopposed motion [721 A2d Page 605]

to lift the stay of the criminal proceedings and proceed to sentencing. In his brief, he explains that it had become apparent that he "had received as much benefit from the program at St. Elizabeths as the program was going to offer." *fn3 The government withdrew the sexual psychopath statement and the trial court, on December 14, 1995, vacated the commitment order.

At sentencing, and after briefing and argument by both parties, the court addressed the question of whether it should provide in the judgment and commitment order that credit be given Shelton for his time spent at St. Elizabeths. The court stated that although it had doubts whether Shelton was entitled to such credit, and although it recognized that it had authority to act, the court would not rule on the matter but instead leave the determination to correctional authorities. The court proceeded to impose substantial consecutive sentences on Shelton for the six offenses to which he pled guilty.

II.

The parties sharply dispute on appeal whether the trial court was obligated to rule on the credit issue. They differ in the interpretation of D.C.Code § 24-431(a), which in its entirety reads as follows:

Every person shall be given credit on the maximum and the minimum term of imprisonment for time spent in custody or on parole as a result of the offense for which the sentence was imposed. When entering the final order in any case, the court shall provide that the person be given credit for the time spent in custody or on parole as a result of the offense for which sentence was imposed.

This provision was included as part of the Good Time Credits Act of 1986, which is almost entirely devoted to matters dealing with the reduction of sentences by reason of "good time" during incarceration. Apparently for purposes of completeness, section 5 of the Act, codified as § 24-431, was inserted to deal with certain other situations where credit shall be given against the time served under the sentence, such as pretrial custody. *fn4 Prior to that time, there was no District of Columbia statute expressly authorizing credit against the sentence for time spent in confinement. See United States Parole Comm'n v. Noble, 693 A.2d 1084, 1088 (D.C. 1997) ("Noble I"), aff'd en banc, 711 A.2d 85 (D.C. 1998) ("Noble II"). Recently, we had occasion to address en banc an interpretative problem of the first sentence of § 24-431(a) dealing with credit for time spent on parole. See Noble II, supra, 711 A.2d at 86 (adopting the majority opinion of Noble I, supra, 693 A.2d 1084).

Here, the parties dispute the meaning of the second sentence of that subsection. [721 A2d Page 606]

Shelton focuses our attention on the requirement that the "court" make provision for credit. He argues that the plain meaning of the provision requires that the court make a determination at the time of sentencing as to any disputed credits, that such determinations are ultimately matters of law, and that the trial court decision as to the length of sentence to be imposed may be affected by such credits. *fn5

The government, on the other hand, points out the difficulties in any literal application of the second sentence of § 24-431(a), such as the inability of the court in its "final order" *fn6 to say anything meaningful about time spent on "parole," which rarely if ever can occur prior to the order of judgment and commitment. The government also notes the apparent practice of leaving credit determinations to correctional authorities, to which the trial court referred here, *fn6 and suggests that any duty imposed by the "court shall provide" language would be satisfied if, upon specific request, the trial court simply "provide[d]" in general terms that the defendant should be "given credit" for any time that may have been spent in pretrial custody. The government suggests that any detailed challenge to the actual determination by correctional authorities as to the grant vel non of claimed credit is properly raised only in a habeas corpus action.

We need not resolve these various arguments in the present appeal. *fn7 The proper interpretation of law relating to the grant of credit is ultimately a judicial matter. Shelton represents to us, without contradiction by the government, that correctional officials have determined that he will not receive credit for his time at St. Elizabeths under the SPA. *fn7 We are confident that the government has defended that position here as effectively as could be done through a habeas corpus action. Presenting as it does a purely legal question on undisputed facts, there is no need to return this case to the trial court for resolution of the ultimate issue, the subject, to which we now turn. *fn7 [721 A2d Page 607]

III.

The SPA was enacted by the Congress in 1948 " 'as a humane and practical approach to the problem of persons unable to control their sexual emotions.' " *fn8 Millard v. Harris, 132 U.S.App.D.C. 146, 148, 406 F.2d 964, 966 (1968)(quoting S.Rep. No. 80-1377, at 5 (1948)). The Act defines a "sexual psychopath" as a

person, not insane, who by a course of repeated misconduct in sexual matters has evidenced such lack of power to control his or her sexual impulses as to be dangerous to other persons because he or she is likely to attack or otherwise inflict ...


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