(Posted July 10, 2023) In the past couple of months, I’ve discussed with my partners the looming impact of generative artificial intelligence on our careers. Their reactions have varied: Some are intrigued by the possibilities, while others are utterly convinced that it won’t affect their practices at all.

I’m in the camp that regards this new tech as transformative, and I’m doing what I can to educate myself about it. Our legal-research provider – we use Lexis – will roll out its version of AI for lawyers in September, and I’d like to know in advance how it’ll change what I do.

I decided to try a thought experiment, and you get to “grade” the test. I downloaded ChatGPT this past Spring before teaching an Ethics segment about it. Just now, I fed into it the text of last week’s SCV opinion in the habeas appeal Prease v. Clarke and asked it to generate a summary of the case and its holdings. I asked it to limit the summary to 375 words, roughly the length of the analysis that I posted that day.

I invite you to compare what follows – the ChatGPT version of an essay from Virginia’s Finest Appellate Website – with last week’s essay here. If you choose to follow through with this experiment, I’d be grateful to know what you think. You should not expect appellate wit; for that you’ll need to read the genuine article.

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In the case of Prease v. Clarke, Steven Patrick Prease filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that he was wrongfully denied earned sentence credits on his convictions for attempted aggravated murder. He argued that these credits would result in his immediate release from incarceration. The Supreme Court of Virginia reviewed the case and issued an opinion on July 6, 2023.

The background of the case involves Virginia’s system for earning sentence credits. In 1994, the General Assembly established a system where prisoners could earn credits for good behavior and rehabilitation. In 2020, the statute was amended, creating a two-tier system. Certain offenses were eligible for expanded earned sentence credits, while others were limited to 4.5 credits per 30 days served.

Former Attorney General Mark Herring opined that prisoners convicted of inchoate offenses associated with the enumerated offenses were eligible for the expanded credits. However, the new Attorney General Jason Miyares disagreed, arguing that inchoate offenses should also be excluded.

VDOC determined that Prease, convicted of attempted aggravated murder, was ineligible for expanded earned sentence credits based on Miyares’ opinion. Prease then petitioned the Supreme Court of Virginia, arguing that VDOC’s denial was improper.

The court interpreted the statute and concluded that attempted aggravated murder was not among the enumerated offenses ineligible for the credits. They found that the plain language of the statute only applied to convictions for Class 1 felonies, whereas Prease was convicted of a Class 2 felony. Therefore, Prease was entitled to the expanded earned sentence credits.

The court rejected the Commonwealth’s arguments, stating that their role was to interpret the statute as written, and public policy implications should not factor into the interpretation.

Based on their analysis, the Supreme Court of Virginia granted Prease’s petition and issued a writ of habeas corpus, ordering his release from custody.