Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Minnesota Probation Violations (Explained)

Within my practice, I am regularly called upon to help former (and new) clients in Probation Violation proceedings. While there are a million different reasons why a person can have their Probation "violated," these charges tend to fall into one of only a few categories.
In other words, a person will most often face a Probation Violation for one (or more) of 5 reasons:
  1. Missing a urine or other chemical test
  2. Testing positive for alcohol and/or drugs
  3. Missing a Probation appointment, or just stop Reporting
  4. Picking up a new case, or
  5. Not completing some condition of Probation, like community service, counseling, or paying all outstanding Fines and Costs.
Anyone who gets "violated" knows, in the pit of their stomach, that the Judge is not likely to be happy with them. After all, "Probation" specifically means "not in Jail." Even if a person is given an initial Jail Sentence, they had to have been Sentenced to less than the maximum possible Jail term in order to have any Probation left to do. Thus, Probation stands in as a substitute for Jail. And when facing a Probation Violation, the first and biggest concern is staying out of Jail.

Everyone has their reasons for "violating" Probation; however, a person has to understand that from the Court's point of view, this all boils down to the simple notion that a break was given, and the person apparently didn't live up to their end of the bargain. This is, understandably, frustrating to the Judge.

That being said, there are certain Courts that seem to "load up" on the Conditions of Probation. While no one ever wants to face a Violation charge, some people feel like they knew it was going to happen sooner or later, especially when they walked out of Court wondering if Jail wouldn't have been easier than having to do all the things that they feel were dumped upon them.

Who Violates Probation?

There are 2, and only 2 classes of people who wind up in front of a Judge for a Probation Violation: 
  1. Those who voluntarily come to Court to resolve the matter, and
  2. Those who get picked up on an outstanding Warrant.
Once a person receives Notice of a Probation Violation, they either show up to take care of it, or they avoid it. Of those who avoid it, most are heard to offer all kinds of excuses if they subsequently get picked up by the Police and are taken in for the outstanding Warrant. From the Judge's perspective, all those excuses offered by someone standing before them in handcuffs for not having come in on their own, and all those stories about planning to come in and set the matter straight are like the "wah wah wah" noises made by Charlie Brown's teacher; just noise.
However, and no matter how bad things might at first appear, a person inevitably gets some credit just for showing up on their own to take care of things, even if they've been avoiding the Violation for a long time. After all, Judges are people, too. If you just switch places with them, in your mind, for a moment, you can see how anyone would be more inclined to be kinder to the person who voluntarily presents themselves over the person who gets caught and has a bag full of excuses (invariably seen as a bag full of B.S.) about why they haven't taken care of this yet, and how they were planning on doing so, but got picked up first.

How A Lawyer Can Help

Unless there is a really good and provable reason why the Violation should be legally dismissed, an experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney is going to have to swing into "sales" mode - and he better be good (like the type who can sell ice to Eskimos, or water to fish) because being persuasive is about the only thing that stands between the person and a jail cell.

Your lawyer has to first explain to the Judge, in the best light possible, how or why you failed to comply with his Order. Part of this is knowing the difference between an explanation and an excuse. A person will have to explain, for example, how they had to work late and missed a urine test. That will never count as an excuse, in the sense that it will simply excuse the miss, but that beats the heck out someone saying "I was out on some friends boat, and we got all caught up partying, and I just forgot."

Then, your attorney has to present options to the Judge in terms of what to do. At the point where a person has, for lack of a more delicate way to put it, squandered the break given by the Judge, the Judge will be hard pressed to start looking for ways to be sympathetic and lenient and give another break. If you were the Judge, you might just figure that a couple of weeks in Jail will do the trick. And it sure would, but we want to avoid that, at all costs. Jail is a quick and easy decision, it seems appropriate for a Violation of Probation and, to the Judge's thinking, it only makes the person pay the price they were spared by being given Probation in the first place.

Therefore,your lawyer has to convince the Judge that the quick and easy decision IS NOT the best one. This involves a lot of considerations. From my point of view, one of, if not THE most important of those considerations is that the Lawyer needs to know what to say and how to say it to the Judge.


The larger point is that NOT going to Jail is more likely if a lawyer knows how to handle these matters - someone who does not waste a judge's time and knows how to be persuasive. There is a time to be argumentative (during a trial, for example) but arguing with a Judge at this critical stage is a losing strategy in every sense of the word. Thus, even though certain attorneys might be the best person around to defend someone in a murder case, that same guy may be the last person to hire for a Probation Violation.

What Should You Do?

You've read what I've written on this subject.  Hopefully it's straightforward and does not simply drone on with the worn out and tired old lines about being "tough" and "aggressive?" If you think I'd be someone you'd like to work with - call me.  To get the full measure of the man, you have to (in my opinion) stand before him and be able to assess as to whether you can trust that person with your future. 

Call and meet with me today.  The Rolloff Law Office - (612) 619-0262. 

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