REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-000964-MR
FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT NO. 15-CI-00240
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Angela Turner Dunham Justice and
Public Safety Cabinet
COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andrea Reed Assistant Public Advocate
Revised Statute (KRS) 197.047 allows work-time sentence
credit to inmates, but the credit is not available to a
prisoner who is serving a sentence for a violent offense.
Although the trial court upheld the Kentucky Department of
Corrections' (Department) denial of work-credit to Mark
Dixon, an inmate serving a sentence for both violent and
nonviolent offenses, the Court of Appeals reversed that
decision. The Court of Appeals concluded that Dixon's
aggregate sentence for three separate crimes can be separated
into discrete parts, and after completion of 85% of the
sentence he received for a violent offense he was entitled to
work-credit on the remaining portion of his sentence,
i.e., the years attributable to nonviolent crimes.
We granted discretionary review to address the application of
KRS 197.047 to inmates serving an aggregate sentence composed
of consecutive sentences for both violent and nonviolent
offenses. We conclude that a violent offender's aggregate
sentence cannot be separated into discrete violent and
nonviolent components for the purposes of awarding work-time
sentence credit, and thus reverse the Court of Appeals.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
October 2000, Dixon was indicted for first-degree burglary,
first-degree assault, and second-degree assault. A jury found
Dixon guilty of the burglary charge and he subsequently
entered guilty pleas to the assault crimes. In 2001, the
Fayette Circuit Court sentenced Dixon to fifteen years for
first-degree burglary, ten years for first-degree assault,
and one year for assault under extreme emotional disturbance.
The final judgment and order required Dixon to serve the
three sentences consecutively, resulting in a total sentence
of twenty-six years in prison.
2014, Dixon initiated an administrative review of his
sentence, contending that because the sentence for his only
violent offense - the ten-year first-degree assault sentence
- had been served, he was entitled to work-time credit.
Throughout the review and appeal process, the Department
denied the credit on the grounds that Dixon's total
combined sentence of twenty-six years was not partitionable
by offense and, as a violent offender under KRS 439.3401, he
was not allowed any work-time credit. After exhausting his
administrative review remedies, Dixon filed a declaratory
judgment action in Franklin Circuit Court seeking work-time
credit on his separate nonviolent sentences. The trial court
concluded Dixon was not entitled to work-time credit under
KRS 197.047, which specifically disallows credit to inmates
serving a sentence for a violent offense, and dismissed the
appeal, a divided Court of Appeals' panel reversed the
trial court, with the majority concluding Dixon was entitled
to work-time credit on his nonviolent offense sentences. The
dissent disagreed on the basis that the Department's
decisions awarding such credit are always discretionary under
the controlling statute, KRS 197.047(7). The Court of Appeals
remanded the case with directions for the trial court to
enter an order requiring the Department to award Dixon
work-time credit after he served the mandatory 85% of the
sentence for the violent offense. This Court granted
resolution of this appeal primarily depends upon the
interpretation of two statutes: KRS 197.047, relating to
work-time sentence credit for state prisoners, and KRS
532.120, relating to calculating terms of imprisonment. The
two questions raised are 1) whether the disallowance of
sentence credit to a violent offender under KRS 197.047(6)(b)
applies to the aggregate sentence imposed pursuant to KRS
532.120(1)(b) when it is composed of sentences for both
violent and nonviolent offenses; and 2) if the disallowance
does not apply to the aggregate sentence, whether the
Department's award of work-time credit toward a
nonviolent sentence is wholly discretionary under KRS
197.047(7).We conclude that the prohibition in KRS
197.047(6)(b) applies to the aggregate sentence rather than
disallowing work-time credit for only a component
violent-offense sentence. Having so concluded, we do not
reach the contingent second question regarding the
this matter, the Department has contended that under KRS
532.120 (1)(b) Dixon's three consecutive, indeterminate
sentences were aggregated into a single 26-year sentence and
there is no authority for "unpacking" the sentence
so that KRS 197.047 work-time credit may apply to any portion
of the sentence received for a nonviolent offense,
i.e., the sixteen years attributable to the burglary
(fifteen years) and assault under extreme emotional
disturbance (one year). Dixon counters that interpreting the
prohibition in KRS 197.047(6)(b) to apply also to the
nonviolent component of his aggregate sentence would render
the statute's explicit application to a sentence for a
"violent offense" pointless. Dixon also disputes
the Department's position that his 26-year sentence
cannot be "unpacked," pointing to his parole
eligibility being calculated at 85% on the ten-year violent
offense and 20% on the nonviolent offenses. We conclude the
applicable statutes support the Department's position on
an aggregate sentence, but before turning to the specific
statutes we review some guiding principles.
stated in Saxton v. Commonwealth, 315 S.W.3d 293,
300 (Ky. 2010), "[d]iscerning and effectuating the
legislative intent is the first and cardinal rule of
statutory construction." Legislative intent is derived
from the plain reading of a statute's language unless
there is ambiguity. See MPM Fin. Group, Inc. v.
Morton, 289 S.W.3d 193, 197 (Ky. 2009) (citing
Whittaker v. McClure, 891 S.W.2d 80, 83 (Ky. 1995)).
Generally, "[t]he statute must be read as a whole and in
context with other parts of the law. All parts of the statute
must be given equal effect so that no part of the statute
will become meaningless or ineffectual." Lewis v.
Jackson Energy Co-op. Corp., 189 S.W.3d 87, 92 (Ky.
2005). Likewise, when construing multiple statutes, the
statutes are read "in harmony with one another in order
to effectuate all statutes, if possible." Castle v.
Commonwealth., 411 S.W.3d 754, 757-58 (Ky. 2013) (citing
Ledford v. Faulkner, 661 S.W.2d 475, 476 (Ky.
1983)). In construing statutes, we "presume that the
General Assembly did not intend an absurd statute or an
unconstitutional one." Shawnee Telecom Res., Inc. v.
Brown, 354 S.W.3d 542, 551 (Ky. 2011) (citing Layne
v. Newberg, 841 S.W.2d 181 (Ky. 1992)).
construction principles are front and center in this case
because credit against a prisoner's sentence is a matter
of statute. "There is no constitutional or inherent
right of a convicted person to be conditionally released
before the expiration of a valid sentence."
Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal &
Corr. Complex,442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979); see Huff v.
Commonwealth.,763 S.W.2d 106, 108 (Ky. 1988) (citations
omitted). Nevertheless, Congress and our General Assembly,
respectively, may enact sentence credit statutes allowing for
an inmate's early release because such statutes can serve
the public-interest purposes of rehabilitation and
deterrence. See Greenholtz, 442 U.S at 7-8;
Fowler v. Black,364 S.W.2d 164 (Ky. 1963)
("Since the benefit that a prisoner may receive under
[KRS 197.045] is a matter of legislative grace, the General
Assembly could impose such conditions as it deems best for
society.") (citing Willar ...