Jail for a probation violation? Seriously? With a probation violation the Judge has that option.
Being incarcerated is no place for anyone to be. Losing your job, losing a place to live, having to start over from scratch – life is hard enough without all this stress. But maybe the Judge made things impossible. You worry about work, worry about family, paying bills, and on top of that the Court is having you drug test, go to support meetings, hours and hours of community service. It seems like maybe the Court does not want you to be successful. You try your best and you still receive a letter in the mail for probation violation. Your heart is racing. Stress, anxiety, fear take over. You ask yourself what should you do?
These are 12 proven and effective strategies that give you the best chance of avoiding jail. This advice is from a seasoned lawyer with years of experience both inside and outside the courtroom.
- Lawyer up the right way!. Do not go it alone. Do not choose any old lawyer. Public defender? Is that really what you want to do to yourself. You need to have an experienced lawyer that knows his way around a courtroom. Why does experience matter? The lawyer needs to know the Judge to understand what is effective in terms of preparation and argument. What is the Judge’s thought process? Are there alternatives to jail, like community service, counseling (yes, I know that you do not want to add more things on your list to do – but it’s better than jail)? Can the lawyer convince the Judge to go along with an alternative to jail? Can the lawyer explain why the violation came about in a way that is persuasive? Can the lawyer convince the Judge to give me a second chance? Maybe the lawyer can convince my probation officer to give me a break, who will recommend to the Judge to give me a break, who will then give me a break? There are lawyers out there that may look at you as someone to process, rather than someone to defend and help. Having the right lawyer is the most important step you can take when it comes to probation violations.
- Dress for success. If you come to court looking like you just came from the beach, or a bar, the gym, or from some other recreational area, some Judges will take offense. The reason why there is all the pomp and pageantry (the Judge wearing a robe; the courtroom atmosphere with a jury box, witness stand, and bench; raising your hand to take an oath, etc.) is all based on respect. Respect for the rule of law, respect for the history of the judiciary, respect for the Court. If you act like you don’t care, the Judge may choose not to care about you. The Judge listens to the same story day in and day out. “If I go to jail I will lose my job at the (fill in the blank)”, blah blah blah.. Why should the Judge care if it looks like you don’t even care.? Dress for success does not mean you have to wear a suit, or a particular brand of clothing. Dress for success means wear clean clothes. No t-shirts from the concert you went to last week. Wear a shirt with a collar on it. Ripped jeans may be in style, but Courts do not even try to be cool. Wear dress slacks instead. Ladies can wear a conservative dress, not a club dress. For some reason many Judges are not into tattoos, so be on the safe side and cover them up when possible. Men need to remove hats whenever they are in a courtroom.
- Gum is dumb. Leave it in the garbage can, not in your mouth. Judges hate, hate, hate it whenever a Defendant has gum in their mouth. They view it as disrespectful.
- Provide your lawyer with help. Everything you do that is positive you should document. Not only should you document what you do, you should bring all your paperwork to court. If the probation department loses your paperwork do you think they’re going to admit to it? The great thing about government jobs is if you have one you can be sloppy or forgetful or plain incompetent and rarely will it ever be your fault. The Court looks at persons with cases before it differently. Between the probation agent and you, which one will get all the blame? After all, they are public servants and you’re the now convicted and on probation Defendant, right? Bring the paperwork with you. Do not assume someone else has it, even your own lawyer.
- Help is around the corner. If your lawyer tells you in advance of court to go get counseling, go to a few AA sessions, there is a reason for it. And again – document everything (I think I said that already). If you are doing what you can to help yourself with your issues, the Judge might think you are worthy of a second chance. This is especially true if you take the initiative. If you are getting help on your own the Judge may consider the fact that you are not wasting the court’s resources, and spending your own money might make a difference. Those of us that are parents remember the times that we bought clothing for our child, only to have our child lose it at school or on the bus. What do we do as parents – buy another coat, and buy another coat after that one is lost. Remember, the Judge is not your parent, and will not be as forgiving. He will get you a jump suit rather than a coat.
- The buddy system. Remember in high school when you needed your parent’s nagging to get out of bed, do your chores, do your homework, blah blah blah. Being on probation is just like being back at home, as unappealing as that is. So many expectations!. Maybe you might need a parent to nag you to remember to call to see if you need to drug test. Or maybe you remember when you used to hide stuff from your mom, like report cards, cigarettes, and alcohol. Sometimes you got away with it, and sometimes you got busted. You will get busted a lot more times with probation than you ever did with your parents. Better yet, don’t bother mom if you don’t need to and put what you need to do in your calendar or put a reminder in your phone to call everyday. Come up with some kind of system so that you don’t forget. The Judge will assume that your memory is like an elephant and that you will follow orders like a soldier in the army.
- The buddy system, part II. If no one cares about you, why will the Judge care about you. If you bring your mom, maybe the Judge won’t want to break your mom’s heart and send you to jail for violating probation? Don’t bring children – a Judge will not respect you if you plan to use your child as a shield. Court is not a field trip or a chance at parenting time. Just like you cannot unring a bell, a child cannot forget seeing a parent in handcuffs, and hearing bad stuff being said about their parent. Bringing a child to court is the opposite of being responsible.
- Be on time (even if the Judge is not on time). Don’t get caught up in notions that justice is fair and there are no double standards. If the Judge is late – no big deal. If your lawyer is late – the Judge will probably be okay with it. If you are late, now that’s an issue. Why are you late?. You are wasting the Court’s time!. What it boils down to is respect for the Judge. Being late can result in having a bond forfeited. It sets the wrong tone for your case, and may put the Judge in a bad mood. How many breaks does a Judge give out when he is in a bad mood?
- Don’t have a *%$#* attitude. Nobody likes a *%$#* attitude. Nobody wants to hear a *%$#* attitude. Nobody will reward a *%$#* attitude. A *%$#* attitude is the easiest way to go to jail.
- Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Discuss with your lawyer what you are going to tell the court, before you tell the court. What you have to say might sound slick to you, but in court they speak all that legal relevant language and what you have to say might not translate to well to the Judge. In many cases it is better to let the lawyer do all the explaining. Sometimes it is what the Defendant says that convinces the Judge that jail is the answer. It’s like that TV show from the 70s, “The Gong Show”. If your performance is going to get you gonged, the answer is not to be a contestant in the first place.
- Accepting responsibility, when responsible, is responsible. 90% of the Judges do not care that you missed a drug test because you didn’t have transportation. They just care that you missed the drug test. 100% of Judges will think it is 100% BS if you test positive for marijuana because you were in the same room as someone smoking marijuana. Taking responsibility might convince the court to give you another chance – although there will likely be some sort of a sanction. If you have solutions to the problem that lead to the probation violation, that might go a long way with the Judge. It takes a lot of time and effort to deal with a probation violation. If the Judge can avoid a probation violation for you in the future, and not have to waste a bed in jail on you, that might be something that the Judge wants to hear about.
- Don’t make the same mistake twice. If you are on probation for, lets say, DUI, and you commit another DUI while on probation. As George W. Bush once said, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice we won’t get fooled again”. Nothing says failure to a Judge more convincingly than getting in trouble for a second time. Nothing says danger to the community more than someone who repeatedly gets into trouble. Nothing says disrespect to the judicial system more than someone who ignores the law. If your lawyer gets you out of this one, maybe you should consider naming your next child after the lawyer. You better lawyer up to defend the new case to try and beat it. If the lawyer beats the new case, there is a chance you can get away. I said a chance, because with a probation violation the burden of proof is lower, hearsay is admissible, there is no jury, and you are the Defendant before a Judge who knows what your prior history is. If you don’t get convicted of the DUI, the fact that you had a beer while on probation might be what locks you up.
There really is not a fool proof way to avoid jail for probation violations. A lot depends on the Judge, the type of violations that you are facing, your prior history, and your chances of complying with probation in the future. It is important to control the things that you can control. One of the things you can control is who you hire to represent you. For probation violations in Michigan, my choice would be attorney Daniel Hilf of Hilf & Hilf, PLC. His telephone number is 248-792-2590.