In previous Blog articles, I have discussed various aspects of Probation Violations, from the simple desire to stay out of Jail, or the imposition of too many conditions, to picking up a new charge while on Probation for another, to dropping a dirty urine. Since Probation Violations are a significant part of my Practice (at least my Criminal Practice), I very recently encountered another scenario that comes up quite frequently. This involves someone who simply quit Reporting to Probation, for one reason or another.
Let's define who we're talking about: a person on Probation who fails to report for some time, and is considered an "absconder" (kind of like a runaway). There are many reasons why this can happen. Sometimes, a person just plain misses, and then becomes afraid. Sometimes, a person has had Police contact, and doesn't want to either report it, or lie about it and not report it. Other times, a person may know they're going to test positive for drugs (or alcohol) and rather than face that music, just decides to bail out and deal with it later. The list could go on forever, but the point is that for some reason or reasons, the person has stopped Reporting to Probation. It doesn't take long, of course, for a Warrant to be issued charging the person with a Probation Violation.
For all of the reasons this can happen, and for all of the stories behind those reasons, there are really only 2 ways people resolve this situation:
1. Voluntarily turning yourself in to take care of things, or
2. Getting picked up by the Police on the Warrant.
Most often (but not always) I am called by people in that first group. They know they have some serious unfinished business to take care of, and they want the burden of this outstanding Warrant and all that goes with it to be lifted from their shoulders.
I think it's important to understand something about those people in the second group, who get picked up on the Warrant and brought before the Judge. Having sat in Courtrooms day after day after day for about 20 years, I know how these things work, and I know how Judges view them. And if there ever was a time to use the term "Bulls**t," it probably could never be more accurately applied to anything like it can to the excuses given by those Probation Absconders when the Judge asks them where they've been.
Without fail, every last person brought before the Judge on an outstanding Warrant for failing to Report to Probation and who has been "on the lamb" for any amount of time will say something to the effect that "I was planning on taking care of this soon," or "I was going to turn myself in (insert time-frame here)." Imagine if you're the Judge: every single Absconder you ever see just happened to get picked up right before they were able to make their way to your Courtroom to turn themselves in.
Pretty much no one says something like "Gee, Judge, I know I screwed up, but I thought I'd just ride it out, and maybe I'd never get caught. I mean, I knew I was probably going to Jail anyway, so I just figured I'd rather deal with it later, if I got caught, rather than just walk right into it."
I've never seen that. The best I've heard is someone tell the Judge "I got scared."
And of course, the Judge says something like "And you thought it was going to get better by just letting it wait?"
To which the person usually, and somewhat sheepishly replies "...No, Your Honor..."
Now let's be honest. No Judge anywhere is going to look over the Bench at someone who took off for however long, then decides to turn him or herself in, and give them a gift certificate for being so upstanding. There are going to be consequences. It's just that the consequences for getting caught, as opposed to voluntarily coming in, are usually much worse.
When I get a call from someone in this boat, they very often have another, unfinished (but subsequent) case that needs to be taken care of. Or, they may have been on Probation in 2 or more different places. What I'm saying is that it's often complicated, or even quite messy. The Lawyer's job is to smooth things out, and keep the Client out of Jail.
I've said "lets' be honest" before, but here's another side to that honesty coin. As much as no Judge wants to be seen rewarding someone for Absconding from Probation, there is a certain, tangible degree of leniency and sympathy extended to those who do finally step up and address their problems. And beyond simple human compassion, I think there's another reason, as well, and that has to do with keeping the system moving along, as opposed to jamming it all up. Those who get picked up on a Warrant, and need to be brought before the Judge ASAP, certainly jam up the system. And while we're talking about them in being in front of the Judge, what do you think the Judge is going to do when deciding their Bond?
That's when all that "...I was going to take care of this as soon as...." BS amounts to the same noise that the Teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons made. Remember her? Instead of talking, her voice was a trombone that went "wah wah wah, wah wah wah...."
The Judge is sitting there thinking "yeah, right. You were about to turn yourself in right before you got picked up. Well, I KNOW you'll be back for your next Court date, because your Bond will be high enough to guarantee that."
The voluntary turn-ins, however, have already demonstrated their intention regarding showing up for the next Court date by walking in on their own to start the process. Any concern about their intentions to Appear again has been answered by their very presence in the Courtroom. Very often, I am able to get Personal (or PR) Bonds for these Clients.
What's more, even if they did jam things up by originally Absconding, they are at least getting things moving again by walking in to resolve their issues.
For those that need to take care of an outstanding (and perhaps longstanding) Probation Violation warrant, I think it's imperative to have your Lawyer make arrangements in advance for your surrender. When a Lawyer walks a Client in, he or she will usually walk them out.
A notable exception to that rule of thumb applies, however, when there are multiple Warrants from different places. Say a person has a PV Warrant in Warren, and also has an outstanding Warrant in St. Clair Shores. Whichever Court the person goes to first will, by Law, be required to hold them for the other Court, even after the first Court sets it's own Bond and Condtions. This is one reason why I always, and without exception, advise against Friday turn-ins. If everything that can get screwed up does get screwed up, at least there's no over-the-weekend Jail thing.
Once I've made arrangements for my Client, and after we've brought them in to have the outstanding Warrant(s) recalled, the matter will be set for a Probation Violation Hearing. My take on these is exactly that set forth in my other articles about Probation Violations, except that it's important to add to any explanation to the Judge whatever factors are relevant and helpful in addressing the absconder issue.
This means that if a person was supposed to take some classes, or do some counseling or community service, it sure helps things to come back to Court, after the Arraignment on the Warrant, and at least be able to say you've set up an appointment, or started, or registered with whatever you're supposed to do.
There's no denying that voluntary turn-ins will have an easier time of it, but even those who get picked up, once they've been Arraigned, should start doing some planning. Staying out of Jail is priority number one, but to accomplish that you need to start with an intelligent plan of action.