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Williams v. State of Nevada Department of Corrections

Supreme Court of Nevada

October 5, 2017

JESSICA WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
THE STATE OF NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; AND JO GENTRY, WARDEN, Respondents.

         Appeal from a district court order denying a postconviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the computation of time served. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; James Crockett, Judge.

          Reversed and remanded. Ellen J. Bezian and John Glenn Watkins, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

          Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, and Daniel M. Roche, Deputy Attorney General, Carson City, for Respondents.

          BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and STIGLICH, JJ.

          OPINION

          STIGLICH, J.

         NRS 209.4465(7)(b) provides that credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465 "[a]pply to eligibility for parole unless the offender was sentenced pursuant to a statute which specifies a minimum sentence that must be served before a person becomes eligible for parole."[1] In this opinion, we consider whether credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465 apply to eligibility for parole as provided in NRS 209.4465(7)(b) where the offender was sentenced pursuant to a statute that requires a minimum term of not less than a set number of years but does not mention parole eligibility. Where an offender was sentenced pursuant to such a statute, we conclude that credits do apply to eligibility for parole as provided in NRS 209.4465(7)(b). Because appellant Jessica Williams was sentenced pursuant to such a statute, the credits she earns under NRS 209.4465 should be applied to her eligibility for parole. The district court erred in ruling to the contrary. We therefore reverse and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 19, 2000, Williams struck and killed six teenagers with her vehicle. She was convicted of six counts of driving a vehicle with a prohibited substance in her blood or urine causing death in violation of NRS 484.3795 (now codified as NRS 484C.430). For each count, Williams was sentenced to a minimum term of 36 months and a maximum term of 96 months with each sentence to be served consecutively.[2]

         Williams petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus in 2016, arguing that she was entitled to have credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465 apply to her eligibility for parole. The district court concluded that the legislative intent was for a prisoner to serve his or her minimum term before being eligible for parole and therefore that credits did not apply to Williams' eligibility for parole. Accordingly, the district court denied the petition. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         A postconviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus is "the only remedy available to an incarcerated person to challenge the computation of time that the person has served pursuant to a judgment of conviction." NRS 34.724(2)(c). Williams' claim-that credits are not being applied to her eligibility for parole-challenges the computation of time served and therefore is raised properly in a postconviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Griffin v. State, 122 Nev. 737, 742-43, 137 P.3d 1165, 1168-69 (2006) (interpreting the language of NRS 34.724(2)(c) as logically referring to "credit earned after a petitioner has begun to serve the sentence specified in the judgment of conviction").

         Williams asserts that NRS 209.4465(7)(b) requires credits be applied to her eligibility for parole (i.e., her minimum terms) whereas the State contends that both NRS 209.4465(7)(b) and NRS 213.120(2) require that she serve her minimum terms without any reduction for credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465. The State argues, and the district court agreed, that the Legislature intended for prisoners to serve the minimum term imposed before becoming eligible for parole.

         The issue before us is a matter of statutory interpretation. "Statutory interpretation is a question of law subject to de novo review." State v. Catanio, 120 Nev. 1030, 1033, 102 P.3d 588, 590 (2004). The goal of statutory interpretation "is to give effect to the Legislature's intent." Hobbs v. State, 127 Nev. 234, 237, 251 P.3d 177, 179 (2011). To ascertain the Legislature's intent, we look to the statute's plain language. Id. "[W]hen a statute's language is clear and unambiguous, the apparent intent must be given effect, as there is no room for construction." Edgington v. Edgington, 119 Nev. 577, 582-83, 80 P.3d 1282, 1286 (2003). This court "avoid[s] statutory interpretation that renders language meaningless or superfluous, " Hobbs, 127 Nev. at 237, 251 P.3d at 179, and "whenever possible . . . will interpret a rule or statute in harmony with other rules or statutes, " Watson Rounds v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 131 Nev., Adv. Op. 79, 358 P.3d 228, 232 (2015) (quotation marks omitted).

         NRS 209.4465(7) provides that credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465: (a) "[m]ust be deducted from [a prisoner's] maximum term" of imprisonment and (b) "[a]pply to eligibility for parole unless the offender was sentenced pursuant to a statute which specifies a minimum sentence that must be served before a person becomes eligible for parole." The first part of subsection 7(b) establishes a general rule-that credits earned pursuant to NRS 209.4465 apply to eligibility for parole. The second part of subsection 7(b) sets forth a limitation-the general rule does not apply if the offender "was sentenced pursuant to a statute which specifies a minimum sentence that must be served before a person becomes eligible for parole." Thus, if the sentencing statute did not specify a minimum sentence that had to be ...


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