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Absconding from Probation

August 13th, 2009
By Jamie Markham

What does it mean to “abscond” from probation supervision? “Absconder” is not defined statutorily; rather, it is defined in Division of Community Corrections (DCC) policy as “an offender who is actively avoiding supervision by making his/her whereabouts unknown to the supervising officer.” DCC makes a searchable list of all absconders available to the public here (click on the absconder tab at the top of the page, and you can search by last name or by county). Statewide, there are about 12,000 probationers who have absconded probation – about 10% of all supervised probationers. That’s down from the 14,000 figure the News & Observer frequently cited in its “Losing Track” series, but obviously still a high number. One of the reasons the number stays so high is that district attorneys and DCC are disinclined to remove anyone from the list, even for cases that would have expired many years ago. Rightly so – as I’ll discuss in a minute, there’s no other way to retain jurisdiction over a probationer who might someday turn up. So, the 12,000-probationer list, which undoubtedly includes a good number of bad people “actively avoiding supervision,” probably also includes a fair number of low-risk folks who might have changed addresses, moved out of the state, gotten married and changed names, been hospitalized, or died. Regardless, it’s a bad situation for everyone, including court officials who have to explain why a handful of decades-old cases make it look like it takes 7 months to resolve the average probation violation. I digress.

Back to my original question: what does it mean to abscond probation? As I said, the General Statutes don’t really mention absconding at all, except in G.S. 15A-837(a)(6), which places on DCC a duty to inform crime victims within 72 hours when a victim has absconded supervision. That may be tricky, though, because a probationer doesn’t become an absconder the moment he or she misses a curfew check. Here are DCC’s policy requirements for declaring someone an absconder:

absconder-regulation

Suppose all these requirements are met and an officer files a report alleging that a person absconded. Is it a problem that hardly anyone has as an explicit condition of probation that says “don’t abscond”? No. Depending on the circumstances, absconding probably constitutes a violation of multiple conditions of probation – G.S. 15A-1343(b)(2) (remain within the jurisdiction), G.S. 15A-1343(b)(3) (report to a probation officer as directed), and other conditions in certain cases. And we know from a recent court of appeals case that notice of the offending behavior – even if not tied to a particular condition – gives a probationer sufficient notice of the alleged violation under G.S. 15A-1345(e). State v. Hubbard, __ N.C. App. __ (2009). Nevertheless, if a violation report alleges that a person absconded, it seems to me that the probation officer should be prepared to testify at the violation hearing that he or she fulfilled all the necessary administrative requirements before declaring the probationer an absconder.

Finally, note that absconder violations are not immune from the jurisdictional requirements that apply to all probation violations – even if the State is unable to hold the hearing before the period of supervision expires precisely because the probationer can’t be found. The requirement in G.S. 15A-1344(f) that the State file a written violation report before the probation term expires to preserve the court’s ability to act applies with equal force to absconders. State v. High, 183 N.C. App. 443 (2007). Under prior law, the fact that a person had absconded might have been relevant to the court’s determination of whether the State had made a “reasonable effort to notify the probationer and to conduct the hearing earlier,” but legislation passed last year (S.L. 2008-129) did away with that requirement for violation hearings held after December 1, 2008. So, cases like State v. Black, __ N.C. App. __, 677 S.E.2d 199 (2009) (holding that a court lacked jurisdiction to revoke a defendant’s probation after expiration when the State failed to make the requisite “reasonable efforts”), should, except for those already in the appellate pipeline, be a dying breed.

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6 Responses to “Absconding from Probation”

  1. Owen Strickland says:

    As a former Probation Officer of 12 years, every case I violated for absconding included violations of several different conditions of supervision. In all of the cases that I completed a violation report on, I was prepared to testify to each step that I completed to ‘abscond’ the offender. Further, the requirements of DCC policy are known as well by the offender population as they are by the officers and leaders of DCC if not better understood. Therefore, if the offender has missed a curfew or appointment with the officer the imaginary clock (30 days, 14 days or 24 hours) starts. All they have to do is ‘reset’ the clock by calling the officer, ‘dropping in’ to see the officer without an appointment, or being home 1 time during curfew. What people don’t seem to understand is that offenders that abscond (probationers & post-releasees) are criminals of the highest order and they do not abscond by ‘mistake’. Offenders abscond because they can’t/won’t pay their fees/fines, the officer is doing contacts that impede criminal activity, the offender is using illegal drugs, or they do not want to be supervised in the first place. Absconding is also not taken seriously by the DCC leadership because once the case is violated for ‘absconding’ it becomes by nature a case that is not actively supervised. The primary goal of DCC is to deal with the ever increasing onslaught of new and recurring cases generated by the court system. DCC leaders will expound on a goal of ‘public safety’ but all officers really do is attempt to keep their collective heads above a tide of case after case and ‘stress’ over when one of their offenders is going to go out and kill someone. Sure , absconders are assigned to Surveillance Officers following the violation and warrant issuance but all they have time to do is a criminal records check or two a month, because they are also checking up on active offenders. The 12,000 absconders reported by DCC may actually be a low figure because who’s to know how many offenders are really actively avoiding being supervised and just ‘resetting the clock’ every so often.

    • becraft says:

      my son was in a severve car accident with head trauma and has perm brain damage he lost his home his job everything i contacted his po and left several mesages about this and she never returned my call,he called her when he was able to speak.and left messages she never called ,he receieved aletter from her that was forwarded to his dads new home that he got 2 months after his dad got it saying he needed to report ,he called her again and left a message he couldnt walk was still under medical care ,again nothing back from her he had concurrent sentance starting in 06 1 yr ,07 18 m ,08 1 year all concurrent to sentance number 1 which made his probation run out in april 09 he told her on her answer machine as soon as he got his settlement from insurance co he would finish paying what he owed ,i paid some for him,again no reply then in july of 09 she put him as absconder .so not all po do their job ,he did not abscond he was seriously injured in a car wreck that almost cost him his life.he has frontal lobe damage that will effect him the rest of his life.so not everyone that have been absconded are trying to hide ,this is a case where i know she was contacted and she did not call me back or him or his dad.so how did she abscond him when she was contacted about his situatuion,and his probation run out 3 months before she even filed the absconder on him .there are people who do abscond on purpose but there are some who do not but get put on there .there are some really good po s and there are some bad ones ,just like any job

  2. curtis says:

    did ur son have to go to prison after all of that

  3. Jen says:

    Is violating misdemeanor probation by abscondering a felony? He has served 141 days of a 150 day sentence. They now say he has to go to DOC for remanding days? So confused.

  4. Daniel says:

    My name is DAniel HEwett Im a absconder I need legal help I was wrongfully treated horrible by my probation officer in Burgaw Nc an I refuse to turn myself in because I payed my do’s. My father called an asked them is there anything I can do to fix things they said no except get ready to go to prison I’ve been tormented font this for so long any advice?

  5. robyn williams says:

    I am an absconder of probation in the state of North Carolina. I am currently serving probation in New York, but never ended up reporting to my NC probation officer. I am supposed to go on a cruise (requiring a passport) for my father’s wedding after my NY probation is complete. Will I be able to successfully leave and return for this cruise without an issue? Please feel free to email me with a direct answer, as this is (obviously, to some degree,) time sensitive! Msxwilliams@gmail.com. Thank you!!

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