Headlines this week raise the question: Why do some people seem to get out of jail or prison after serving only a fraction of their sentence, while others are forced to serve out their time? On Friday, Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail on a probation violation, for committing a theft offense while on probation for
Driving Under the Influence (DUI/DWI). Just hours later, Lohan was released from jail after posting bail. In an unrelated story with a similar theme, today, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that the man killed in a shoot out with police on Tuesday had previously been convicted of
Murder. He was released on parole in December prior to serving out his sentence. While the results may seem unfair, there are many reasons that can lead to early release from jail and/or prison.
Truth in Sentencing - In 1995, the Nevada legislature passed "Truth in Sentencing" legislation, which provides that the entire minimum sentence must be served prior to releasing an offender from prison. That means that, for offenses committed after 1995, offenders must serve 100% of the minimum sentence prior to becoming eligible for release. While good time credits and work/education credits may be granted to reduce an offender's maximum sentence, following the Truth in Sentencing law they may NOT be used to reduce a minimum sentence.
Appeal Bonds - It is common for people accused of a crime to be granted release on bail
before trial. However, it is relatively uncommon for an offender to be released on bail
after they are convicted and sentenced to jail or prison. Nevada law allows Courts to release convicted offenders on an appeal bond if they can show that: (1) he/she will return to court and is not a flight risk; and (2) it is likely that the conviction will be reversed on appeal. While this is an uncommon occurrence in Nevada, it appears to be the basis for Lohan's release in California.
Parole/Supervised Release - Parole is a form of supervised release following a prison term. After "Truth in Sentencing" was enacted in 1995, a convicted person may only be paroled after they complete 100% of the minimum sentence, but before he serves the maximum term. If a person has served the maximum term, then he/she is released without supervision and is not subject to parole. The man in the Las Vegas Review Journal article who was shot by police, had been released on parole following serving his minimum term for Murder.
Good Time Credits/Work Credits/Education Credits- If an inmate works, meets certain education goals, or simply has good behavior while in jail or prison, he can earn credit toward his sentence. Following the Truth In Sentencing law, these credits cannot reduce the minimum sentence. But, they can significantly reduce the maximum sentence that the convicted person must serve. The Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled that Courts cannot take away a convicted person's ability to earn good time credits by sentencing defendants to "flat time."
Compassionate Release - An inmate within the Nevada prison system may apply for a compassionate release if: (1) the inmate is so physically disabled that they likely will not pose a danger to public safety in the future; or (2) the inmate is so ill that he/she is expected to die within twelve (12) months and there is a high probability that the inmate will not pose a danger to public safety. Inmates cannot qualify for compassionate release if they are currently serving a sentence of life without parole or are currently serving or have previously been subject to a sentence of death.