Weaver v. Graham, No. 79-5780

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation450 U.S. 24,67 L.Ed.2d 17,101 S.Ct. 960
Decision Date24 February 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79-5780
PartiesHoyt WEAVER, Petitioner, v. Robert GRAHAM, Governor of Florida

450 U.S. 24
101 S.Ct. 960
67 L.Ed.2d 17
Hoyt WEAVER, Petitioner,

v.

Robert GRAHAM, Governor of Florida.

No. 79-5780.
Argued Nov. 5, 1980.
Decided Feb. 24, 1981.
Syllabus

Held: A Florida statute repealing an earlier statute and reducing the amount of "gain time" for good conduct and obedience to prison rules deducted from a convicted prisoner's sentence is unconstitutional as an ex post facto law as applied to petitioner, whose crime was committed before the statute's enactment. Pp. 28-36.

(a) For a criminal or penal law to be ex post facto, it must be retrospective, that is, it must apply to events occurring before its enactment, and it must disadvantage the offender affected by it. Lindsey v. Washington, 301 U.S. 397, 401, 57 S.Ct. 797, 799, 81 L.Ed. 1182; Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 390, 1 L.Ed. 648. It need not impair a "vested right." Even if a statute merely alters penal provisions accorded by the grace of the legislature, it violates the Ex Post Facto Clause if it is both retrospective and more onerous than the law in effect on the date of the offense. Pp. 28-31.

(b) The effect, not the form, of the law determines whether it is ex post facto. Although the Florida statute on its face applies only after its effective date, respondent conceded that the statute is used to calculate the gain time available to prisoners, such as petitioner, convicted for acts committed before the statute's effective date. Regardless of whether or not the prospect of gain time was in some technical sense part of the petitioner's sentence, the statute substantially alters the consequences attached to a crime already completed, changing the quantum of punishment, and thus is a retrospective law which can be constitutionally applied to petitioner only if it is not to his detriment. Pp. 31-33.

(c) The Florida statute is disadvantageous to petitioner and other similarly situated prisoners. The reduction in gain time that had been available under the repealed statute for abiding by prison rules and adequately performing assigned tasks lengthens the period that someone in petitioner's position must spend in prison. It is immaterial that other statutory provisions were also enacted whereby a prisoner might earn extra gain time by satisfying extra conditions. The award of such extra gain time is purely discretionary, contingent on both the correctional authorities' wishes and the inmate's special behavior, and thus none of the provisions for extra gain time compensates for the reduction of gain time available solely for good conduct. The new provision therefore constricts the inmate's opportunity to earn early release and thereby-

Page 25

makes more onerous the punishment for crimes committed before its enactment. Pp. 33-36.

La., 376 So.2d 855, reversed and remanded.

Thomas C. MacDonald, Jr., Menlo Park, Cal., for petitioner.

Wallace E. Allbritton, Tallahassee, Fla., for respondent.

Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Florida, like many other States, rewards each convicted prisoner for good conduct and obedience to prison rules by using a statutory formula that reduces the portion of his sentence that he must serve. In this case, we consider whether a Florida statute altering the availability of such "gain time for good conduct" 1 is unconstitutional as an ex post facto law when applied to petitioner, whose crime was committed before the statute's enactment.

I

The relevant facts are undisputed. Petitioner pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The crime charged occurred on January 31, 1976. On May 13, 1976, petitioner was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of 15 years, less time-

Page 26

already served. The state statute in place on both the date of the offense and the date of sentencing provided a formula for deducting gain-time credits from the sentences "of every prisoner who has committed no infraction of the rules or regulations of the division, or of the laws of the state, and who has performed in a faithful, diligent, industrious, orderly and peaceful manner, the work, duties and tasks assigned to him." Fla.Stat. § 944.27(1) (1975).2 According to the formula, gain-time credits were to be calculated by the month and were to accumulate at an increasing rate the more time the prisoner had already served. Thus, the statute directed that the authorities "shall grant the following deductions" from a prisoner's sentence as gain time for good conduct:

"(a) Five days per month off the first and second years of his sentence;

"(b) Ten days per month off the third and fourth years of his sentence; and

"(c) Fifteen days per month off the fifth and all succeeding years of his sentence." Fla.Stat. § 944.27(1) (1975).

In 1978, the Florida Legislature repealed § 944.27(1) and enacted a new formula for monthly gain-time deductions. This new statute provided:

"(a) Three days per month off the first and second years of the sentence;

"(b) Six days per month off the third and fourth years of the sentence; and

"(c) Nine days per month off the fifth and all succeeding years of the sentence." Fla.Stat. § 944.275(1) (1979).3

Page 27

The new provision was implemented on January 1, 1979, and since that time the State has applied it not only to prisoners sentenced for crimes committed since its enactment in 1978, but also to all other prisoners, including petitioner, whose offenses took place before that date.4

Petitioner, acting pro se, sought a writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court of Florida on the ground that the new statute as applied to him was an ex post facto law prohibited by the United States and the Florida Constitutions.5 He alleged that the reduced accumulation of monthly gain-time credits provided under the new statute would extend his required time in prison by over 2 years, or approximately 14 percent of his original 15-year sentence.6 The State Su-

Page 28

preme Court summarily denied the petition. 376 So.2d 855. The court relied on its decision in a companion case raising the same issue where it reasoned that "gain time allowance is an act of grace rather than a vested right and may be withdrawn, modified, or denied." Harris v. Wainwright, 376 So.2d 855, 856 (1979).7 We granted certiorari, 445 U.S. 927, 100 S.Ct. 1311, 63 L.Ed.2d 759, and we now reverse.

II

The ex post facto prohibition 8 forbids the Congress and the States to enact any law "which imposes a punishment for an act which was not punishable at the time it was committed; or imposes additional punishment to that then prescribed." Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wall. 277, 325-326, 18 L.Ed. 356 (1867). See Lindsey v. Washington, 301 U.S. 397, 401, 57 S.Ct. 797, 799, 81 L.Ed. 1182 (1937); Rooney v. North Dakota, 196 U.S. 319, 324-325, 25 S.Ct. 264, 265-266, 49 L.Ed. 494 (1905); In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 171, 10 S.Ct. 384, 387, 33 L.Ed. 835 (1890); Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 390, 1 L.Ed. 648 (1798).9 Through this prohibition, the Framers sought to assure that legislative Acts give fair warning of their effect and permit individuals to rely on their meaning until explic-

Page 29

itly changed. Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 298, 97 S.Ct. 2290, 2300, 53 L.Ed.2d 344 (1977); Kring v. Missouri, 107 U.S. 221, 229, 2 S.Ct. 443, 449, 27 L.Ed. 506 (1883); Calder v. Bull, supra, 3 Dall. at 387. The ban also restricts governmental power by restraining arbitrary and potentially vindictive legislation. Malloy v. South Carolina, 237 U.S. 180, 183, 35 S.Ct. 507, 508, 59 L.Ed. 905 (1915); Kring v. Missouri, supra, 107 U.S., at 229, 2 S.Ct., at 449; Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 138, 3 L.Ed. 162 (1810); Calder v. Bull, supra, at 395, 396 (Paterson, J.); the Federalist No. 44 (J. Madison), No. 84 (A. Hamilton).10

In accord with these purposes, our decisions prescribe that two critical elements must be present for a criminal or penal law to be ex post facto: it must be retrospective, that is, it must apply to events occurring before its enactment,11 and it must disadvantage the offender affected by it.12 Lindsey v. Washington, supra, 301 U.S., at 401, 57 S.Ct., at 799; Calder v. Bull, supra, at 390. Contrary to the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Florida, a law need not impair a "vested right" to violate the ex post facto prohibition.13 Evaluating whether a right has vested-

Page 30

is important for claims under the Contracts or Due Process Clauses, which solely protect pre-existing entitlements. See, e. g., Wood v. Lovett, 313 U.S. 362, 371, 61 S.Ct. 983, 987, 85 L.Ed. 1404 (1941); Dodge v. Board of Education, 302 U.S. 74, 78-79, 58 S.Ct. 98, 100, 82 L.Ed. 57 (1937). See also United States Railroad Retirement Board v. Fritz, 449 U.S. 166, 174, 101 S.Ct. 453, 459, 66 L.Ed.2d 368 (1980). The presence or absence of an affirmative, enforceable right is not relevant, however, to the ex post facto prohibition, which forbids the imposition of punishment more severe than the punishment assigned by law when the act to be punished occurred. Critical to relief under the Ex Post Facto Clause is not an individual's right to less punishment, but the lack of fair notice and governmental restraint when the legislature increases punishment beyond what was prescribed when the crime was consummated. Thus, even if a statute merely alters penal provisions accorded by the grace of the legislature, it violates the Clause if it is both retrospective and more onerous than the law in effect on the date of-

Page 31

the offense.14 We now consider the Florida statute in light of these two considerations.

The respondent maintains that Florida's 1978 law altering the availability of gain time is not retrospective because, on its face, it applies only after its effective date. Brief for Respondent 12, 15-16. This argument fails to acknowledge that it is the effect, not the form, of the law that determines whether it is ex post facto.15 The critical question is whether the law changes the legal consequences of acts...

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2298 practice notes
  • Beharry v. Reno, No. 98 CV 5381(JBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 22, 2002
    ...A corollary is that the applicable punishment for a crime can not be increased after the crime was committed. See, e.g., Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981); Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 97 S.Ct. 2290, 53 L.Ed.2d 344 (1977); Marks v. United States, 430 U.......
  • In re Adams, Bankruptcy No. 87-05906.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of New Jersey
    • January 20, 1989
    ...against ex post facto laws, stating: This prohibition applies only when the legislation is retrospective in operation. Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 964, 67 L.Ed.2d 17, 23 (1981). The Merit Rating Plan surcharge was approved prior to petitioner\'s arrest for violating N.......
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...Acts give fair warning of their effect” and to “restrain[ ] arbitrary and potentially vindictive legislation.” Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 28–29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981). Bahlul objected to the judge that after the events of September 11, 2001, this country had “put on the si......
  • U.S. v. Richards, Docket No. 98-7676
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • February 10, 2000
    ...of criminal conduct or increasing the punishment for his crime." Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433, 441 (1997)(quoting Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 30 (1981)). Although this court has not yet addressed the issue, several federal circuit courts have considered whether application of the MVRA t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2293 cases
  • Beharry v. Reno, No. 98 CV 5381(JBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 22, 2002
    ...A corollary is that the applicable punishment for a crime can not be increased after the crime was committed. See, e.g., Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981); Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 97 S.Ct. 2290, 53 L.Ed.2d 344 (1977); Marks v. United States, 430 U.......
  • In re Adams, Bankruptcy No. 87-05906.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of New Jersey
    • January 20, 1989
    ...against ex post facto laws, stating: This prohibition applies only when the legislation is retrospective in operation. Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 964, 67 L.Ed.2d 17, 23 (1981). The Merit Rating Plan surcharge was approved prior to petitioner\'s arrest for violating N.......
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...Acts give fair warning of their effect” and to “restrain[ ] arbitrary and potentially vindictive legislation.” Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 28–29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981). Bahlul objected to the judge that after the events of September 11, 2001, this country had “put on the si......
  • U.S. v. Richards, Docket No. 98-7676
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • February 10, 2000
    ...of criminal conduct or increasing the punishment for his crime." Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433, 441 (1997)(quoting Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 30 (1981)). Although this court has not yet addressed the issue, several federal circuit courts have considered whether application of the MVRA t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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