Sunday, April 10, 2005

There I Was. . .

at 20,000 feet. . .

Whoops, wrong story. Well, there I was, crouched over my computer (doesn't sound anywhere near as exciting, does it?), trying to decide how to do a pinpoint cite when Westlaw provides the official citation but no official pagination and no national reporter cite at all, when the office manager came down the hall chanting "Hello, hello, is anyone here?" until she got to my door when she changed it "Thank God, you're here!" Something I don't hear from beautiful women all that often these days. Of course, she follows it up by asking "Can you cover a probation violation hearing in Judge X's court? No one else is here and it wasn't on the docket." Sigh. Let me explain about probation violation hearings in my state.

Felony probation is not uncommon for property crimes, non-injury assaults, drug possession, felony drunk driving, and the usual run of crimes in the fraud family. But it's not necessarily a cake walk for the offender. Depending on things like past record, substance abuse problems, employment, and the offender's attitude as evaluated by the probation agent (PA), the conditions imposed can sometimes make jail/prison a viable alternative.

For example, in addition to the stock stuff (don't drink or use drugs, don't break the law, don't leave the state, etc) some problem offenders have additional conditions like: show up every morning and pee in a cup for the nice PA; show up every week with your AA attendance sheets, show up once a month with your restitution installment in hand and a list of the places you applied for a job - include the name and phone number of the person you talked to, and on and on. Other, more or less typical offenders just have to worry about the stock conditions and showing up once a month. Care to guess who seems to fail most often? Right. The once-a-month guy. Probably something to do with structure. Anyway, the other thing to know about probation violation hearings is that the prosecutor generally doesn't know a damn' thing about the case, the probation conditions, or the alleged violation unless he or she happened to handle the original case and/or been in the courtroom with the violator was arraigned on the bench warrant.

In these hearings, the role of the prosecutor is call the witness (almost always the only witness is the PA) and ask the questions necessary for the story to be told. The rules of evidence mostly don't apply to these hearings and they usually boil down to giving the offender a chance to put his excuse/justification on the record and answer any questions the judge may have.

So I trot on up to Judge X's courtroom, looking for the PA in the mob that's milling around in there. Some God awful civil trial looks to be headed into its second week, based on the amount of stuff spread across the counsel tables and stacked around the court reporter's station. I finally spot a PA huddled a corner with an appointed-counsel-list attorney and am told that the offender (sure enough, a once a month guy) after a nice chat with counsel and the PA, is going to plead guilty. So I go looking for a bailiff/corrections officer to retrieve the offender from the holding cell and tell the judge we're ready. Turns out we weren't the only ones who didn't know about this hearing. It's something of a Freaky Friday sort of session. The chief of courthouse security is doing prisoner transport and the court reporter, looking really pissed about, it is doing the bailiff thing - you know, all rise, the court is now in session, etc. And the only thing that would demonstrate more acutely the sort staff situation in my office would be if the Boss was standing here instead of me.

Well, eventually we get offender, defense counsel, the PA, me, and the judge all in the room at the same time. The offender, a boot camp graduate (it's always a little disconcerting to see these guys standing there, in their orange jumps, at attention saying "yes, sir" and "no, sir") who appears to have both moved without telling anyone and missed reporting for a couple of months, explains how he screwed up the first time, then was afraid to come to the second reporting date because he'd screwed up the first time and if he hadn't missed the first reporting date he would have filled out the change of residence form he knew he was supposed to turn in. I have no idea what he's in for, but the fact he made it through boot-camp, coupled with his age and the PA's recommendation that the bond be changed to own recognizance pending sentencing, seem to indicate a boy-will-be-stupid-boy property crime of some sort. Anyway, my entire role in this matter was to stand behind my podium, looking prosecutorial, and say "thank you, judge" when his honor says, "OK, plea accepted, bond is amended to $1000 OR and this matter is adjourned to the sentencing date."

Another day in the Halls of Justice.

5 comments:

Michael Pratt said...

Ah yes, probation violations. I've done enough of those down here in Kentucky to do them in my sleep. I suspect I may have done so in the past.

All I do is ask the probation officer is what did he/she do? Then I say something along the lines he/she didn't do what he told us he/she would do, the Commonwealth asks for revocation.

Maybe I could get a prerecorded spiel to play for the hearing.

Mister DA said...

Yep, that's about the sum total. No rules of evidence (pesky things) unsually only one witness, and an experienced witness at that. Almost always a slow guilty plea.

Anonymous said...

Bah, the trick is to get the judge to dismiss the PV...

Mister DA said...

Not when you're me. You did notice the name, right? [-)

PD Guy said...

Ahh, but I'm me.