Thursday, April 4, 2013

Just because you can

In the neverending quest to coerce defendants into bowing to the state's will, judges in Harris County have found a new tool over the last year - the probation department. Defendants charged with drug- or alcohol-related offenses find themselves up before the judge after making bond being assigned to a probation officer for "pre-trial supervision."

This arrangement comes with a monthly probation fee as well as regularly scheduled and random urine tests. The tests being under the auspices of the same agency responsible for fucking up drug tests for probationers. And, just to jab a thumb in the eye, should a defendant plead to probation he gets no credit for the time he was under pre-trial supervision.

The point, of course, is to make it so painful, both from a financial, employment and time situation, that defendants will jump at the first offer that doesn't involve jail or prison time. A defendant shouldn't be punished because he was able to post bond and fight his case from outside the jail - bond conditions are supposed to be set at the minimum level to ensure attendance in court and public safety. This program only serves to drive up the cost of posting bond.

But there is more. With the new administration on the 6th floor at 1201 Franklin, the old stand-by - time served and a fine - has come back to the world of DWI defense. Of course taking the straight conviction will hand you a one-year driver's license suspension; but then there's always the occupational license to get you through.

Let's face it. If your choice were to take the conviction, pay a fine and lose your license for a year versus a year on probation with fees, meetings, drug tests as well as the threat of revocation, which would you choose?

And this is where the judges decided to stick it to the defendants.

Let's say you would be ordered to install an ignition interlock device in your care either as a condition of probation or as a condition of an occupational license. You'd take the latter every day of the week because the worst thing that could happen if the device locked you out because you had alcohol on your breath is that judge could take away the piece of paper that allows you to drive. If you're on probation, on the other hand, in that scenario you are looking a motion to revoke your probation and the possibility of jail time.

Now, however, if you want to get an occupational license in Judge Don Smyth's court, you will be supervised by the probation department - and that supervision will include monthly fees and drug tests. The point is to make the experience every bit as miserable as being on probation in an attempt to persuade more folks to elect probation over time served.

There is no reason to require a defendant who is not on probation to go through the hassle of meeting a probation officer after the case has been disposed. There is no reason to impose an additional tax on those convicted of driving while intoxicated. That is, unless it's just because you can do it.


Anonymous said...

Some of the judges will tell you up front they if you take jail and fine they won't grant the occupational license. Can you have them recused for deciding that before a petition is even filed? Brad Walters

nidefatt said...

Kind of an obvious due process violation isn't it? Imposing probation on someone prior to adjudication for the mere allegation of drug/alcohol use/abuse? Beyond that, what about our right to reasonable bail/conditions of bail?