Weaver v. Graham
Annotate this Case
450 U.S. 24 (1981)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24 (1981)
Weaver v. Graham
Argued November 5, 1980
Decided February 24, 1981
450 U.S. 24
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. 450 U. S. 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, 301 U. S. 401; Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 3 U. S. 390. 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. 450 U. S. 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. 450 U. S. 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 The reduction in gain time that had been available under the repealed statute for abiding by prison rules and adequately performing assigned tasks lengthens the period that someone in petitioner's position must spend in prison.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
makes more onerous the punishment for crimes committed before its enactment. Pp. 450 U. S. 33-36.
376 So.2d 855, reversed and remanded.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 36. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 450 U. S. 37.