Thousands of inmates could be released from Colorado prisons if the state Supreme Court sides with a man who says he was incarcerated two years too long, his lawyers argue.
The high court heard arguments last week in the case of Randal Ankeney. The former attorney, 43, was released from prison in August 2013 after the Colorado Court of Appeals found that the Department of Corrections violated state law when it did not use good-time credit Ankeney earned to reduce the length of his sentence.
"They are not counting that good time toward anything," said Denver attorney David Lane, who is representing Ankeney. "That time just disappears."
The Department of Corrections has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court. Department officials declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
In October 2007, Ankeney pleaded guilty to one count of negligent child abuse causing serious bodily injury, according to state records. In exchange for his plea, Larimer County prosecutors dropped six felony sex assault charges.
Ankeney was sentenced to eight years in prison.
While serving his sentence at Fremont Correctional Facility in CaƱon City, he enrolled in education and drug and alcohol programs and helped teach GED classes to inmates, according to filings in the case. By participating in the programs, Ankeney accumulated "earned-time credits," and his good behavior earned him additional "good-time credits."
Ankeney also spent much of his sentence in the prison's law library researching the state's complex parole scheme, which he claims requires the state to apply both his earned- and good-time credits when calculating his mandatory release date. Using that formula, Ankeney says he should have been released in November 2011 — after serving roughly half his sentence.
But the department applied only his earned-time credits, and he was denied parole.
When he was not released, Ankeney filed a petition in Fremont County District Court. The claim was denied at the district court level, but the state appeals court later agreed with Ankeney and ordered the district court to recalculate his mandatory release date.
"To try and muddle your way through the parole statutes, you need a road map and a compass," Lane said.
Ankeney's case has become as complicated as the 30-year-long, flip-flop history of the state's parole scheme. But, Lane says, if the case is successful, it will effectively change the way the Department of Corrections calculates mandatory release dates and force the release of thousands of inmates whose good time has not been applied to their release date.
James Quinn, an attorney with the Colorado Attorney General's office representing the DOC, says Ankeney and Lane are incorrectly interpreting state law. Quinn argues that good time may be applied to the date an inmate becomes eligible for parole, but is not applicable when calculating a mandatory release date.
"You cannot apply both deductions," Quinn told the state Supreme Court.
According to a written argument filed by Quinn, multiple offenders — the filing lists 62 cases — have filed similar petitions in district court. None of those cases have been successful, according to the filing.
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the length of prison sentences should be addressed in Colorado.
"Whether through this lawsuit or through legislation, Colorado needs to address the fact that it incarcerates far too many people for far too long," Silverstein said in an e-mail. "It's time to reverse the trend of mass incarceration that gobbled up too much of the state's budget for too little return."
During arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday, observers packed into the wooden pews. One man scribbled notes on a scrap sheet of paper sitting on top of a stack of documents from the State Parole Board.
The justices quizzed Lane and Quinn on the math they were using to calculate mandatory release dates for inmates.
"Are we faced with saying these statutes are inconsistent?" Justice Nathan B. Coats asked. "How do we reconcile this?"
The high court will issue a written opinion at a later date.
Lane has also filed a federal lawsuit against the DOC on behalf of Ankeney and three other men challenging their mandatory release dates. That suit seeks compensatory damages.
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, or