Court Addresses Availability of Provisional Credits to Inmates Sentenced as Habitual Offenders

John Koeppel

In Leftwich v. Department of Corrections (SC12-2669), the Florida Supreme Court held that section 944.277, Florida Statutes (1992), renders an inmate ineligible to receive provisional credits on any sentence after the inmate has received a habitual offender sentence, even where the habitual offender sentence is imposed subsequent to a sentence that is otherwise eligible for provisional credits.
In 1989, Leftwich committed a robbery and an aggravated battery with a weapon and was sentenced to twelve years of consecutive sentences, neither of which was imposed under the habitual offender statute. However, while incarcerated, Leftwich was convicted for possession of cannabis and was sentenced under the habitual offender statute in 1990. The Florida Department of Corrections determined that due to the habitual offender sentence, Leftwich was not eligible to receive further awards of provisional credits on the robbery or aggravated battery convictions.
Leftwich appealed to the First District, which held that after he was determined to be a habitual offender, he was not eligible to receive provisional credits on any sentence, even those imposed prior to the habitual offender sentence. Leftwich v. Dep’t of Corrections, 101 So.3d 404 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012). However, the district court certified conflict with Downs v. Crosby, where the Second District held that under the version of the provisional credit statute in effect from 1988 through 1992, inmates who were eligible to receive provisional credits on a prior sentence who were later sentenced as a habitual offender could continue to receive provisional credits on their earlier sentence. 874 So. 2d 648 at 650, 652, (Fla. 2d DCA 2004). The statute was amended in 1992 to exclude from eligibility any inmate who “is sentenced, or has previously been sentenced, or has been sentenced at any time in another jurisdiction…” Section 775.084, Fla. Stat.
Leftwich contended that he was entitled to receive provisional credits on the sentences imposed prior to the date he received the habitual offender status, and that the denial of provisional credits on these sentences based on the 1992 amendment violated the ex post facto clause, as held by the First District in Dugger v. Anderson, 593 So. 2d 1134 (Fla, 1st DCA 1992).
The Florida Supreme Court disagreed, finding that because the 1992 amendment was enacted in reaction to the interpretation expressed in Anderson, it was probative of the prior and continuing legislative intent with regard to the eligibility of inmates for provisional credits. Thus, “not only was Anderson a misreading of the plain language of the statute, the 1992 amendment demonstrates that it did not properly reflect legislative intent,” which was to reduce overcrowding in the state prison system. Further, the Court did not consider its ruling to constitute an unforeseeable enlargement of the statute, since “although subsequent legislation cannot be used to overturn prior court decisions with respect to a statute, the legislation can be used to clarify the intent behind the prior version of the statute.” Accordingly, the Court approved of the First District’s decision in Leftwich and disapproved Downs, and held that interpreting the 1992 amendment to make Leftwich ineligible for provisional credits would not violate the prohibition on ex post facto laws.
Justices Quince and Pariente dissented, finding that the language “[i]s sentenced, or has previously been sentenced” for inmates sentenced under the Florida habitual offender statute, compared to “or has been sentenced at any time in another jurisdiction” can be reasonably interpreted to create a narrow category of habitual offenders sentenced in Florida who may still earn provisional credits. Furthermore, because the language in the 1988 statute was “susceptible of differing constructions,” the dissent felt that the rule of lenity required the Court to construe the statute in favor of Leftwich.