A conditional discharge allows a defendant who pleads guilty or is found guilty to be placed on probation without entry of judgment. If the defendant succeeds on probation, the court dismisses the conviction. If the defendant fails, the court enters judgment and sentences the defendant. Not long ago, G.S. 90-96 was pretty much the only conditional discharge game in town. Nowadays, there are lots of different conditional discharges. Today’s post collects them all in one place. Continue reading
Tag Archives: probation
Do the Justice Reinvestment Act’s limitations on a judge’s authority to revoke probation apply in deferred prosecution and conditional discharge cases?
Defendants can be placed on probation as part of a deferred prosecution or conditional discharge. The statutes governing that probation don’t spell out every detail of what it looks like. Instead, they typically incorporate by reference the ordinary rules of Article 82 of Chapter 15A—the probation article. See, e.g., G.S. 15A-1341(a1) (“A person who has been charged with a Class H or I felony or a misdemeanor may be placed on probation as provided in this Article . . . .”). We know that “[i]n the absence of a provision to the contrary, and except where specifically excluded, the general probation provisions found in Article 82 of Chapter 15A apply to probation imposed under G.S. 90-96.” State v. Burns, 171 N.C. App. 759 (2005).
One of the most important rules in Article 82 is that the court may revoke probation only for new crimes and absconding. G.S. 15A-1344(a). The court may also revoke probation for felony and DWI probationers who have served two prior periods of confinement in response to violation (CRV), and for misdemeanor probationers who have received two prior quick dips in the jail. G.S. 15A-1344(d2).
Of course, “revocation” means something different in the context of a deferral case than it does in regular post-conviction probation. It is not the activation of a suspended sentence. Rather, in a deferred prosecution case, it is an “order that charges as to which prosecution has been deferred be brought to trial.” G.S. 15A-1344(d). In a conditional discharge case, it is entry of judgment and sentencing. Notwithstanding those conceptual differences, the question remains: are the rules limiting the court’s authority to revoke among the “general probation provisions found in Article 82” that, under Burns, apply in deferral cases, too? Or does some “provision to the contrary” control, allowing probation to be revoked for any violation in deferral cases?
I don’t think there’s a clear answer.
The best argument that probation may be revoked for any violation is probably the language found in various conditional discharge statutes saying that, “upon violation of a term or condition of [conditional discharge probation],” the court may enter judgment and proceed as otherwise provided. Language to that effect appears in G.S. 90-96(a), G.S. 90-113.14(a) (toxic vapors), G.S. 15A-1341(a6) (misdemeanors and Class H and I felonies and drug treatment court), and G.S. 14-204(b)(5) (prostitution). Those laws refer to violation of “a term or condition,” without specifying that it need to be a violation of any particular condition. There is no similar language directly applicable to deferred prosecution probation.
As practical matter, the JRA’s three-strikes approach to technical violations strikes me as a poor fit for deferral cases. In my opinion (outlined here) those cases are ineligible for CRV or quick dips—the sanctions that qualify as strikes one and two. It seems unlikely that the legislature intended deferral cases to be entirely revocation-proof until the defendant committed a new crime or absconded, but no law unambiguously exempts those cases from the general rule.
The one type of conditional discharge that clearly sets out a rule different from the JRA is G.S. 90-96(a1). That lesser-used cousin of G.S. 90-96(a) says that a failure to complete drug education school—something that would be a mere technical violation in the context of a regular post-conviction probation case—“shall constitute grounds to revoke.” Indeed, upon receipt of information that the defendant has failed to complete the program, the court is required to revoke. That’s a departure from the general rule that the court has discretion on whether or not to revoke probation even in the face of a revocation-eligible violation.
This morning Jamie Markham and I loaded a passenger van with a group of district court judges who had come to the SOG for a week-long orientation course. We hauled them (through the snow) over to the offices of Community Corrections on Yonkers Road in Raleigh. Jamie lectured while I drove.
We took the judges over to probation headquarters so that in addition to learning about the law of probation from the expert (Jamie, obvi), they could meet, hear from, and question the people who set, write, and administer probation policy and who supervise probationers. The experience was amazing.
Suppose a defendant is convicted of a class I felony and has a prior record level of I. That’s a “C” block on the felony sentencing grid, where only community punishment is authorized. Community punishment can include a range of punishments from a fine only, up to supervised probation, but does not encompass a straight active sentence. The defendant informs the sentencing court that she wants to serve her time in prison. The defendant further explicitly states she will not accept probation and refuses to meet with probation, missing several opportunities to begin the intake process. What options does the trial court have? Continue reading →
A special purpose extension of probation is permitted only for certain specified purposes. According to a case decided earlier this week, substance abuse treatment isn’t one of them. Continue reading →
If you’ve noticed an uptick in probation hearings on extensions, today’s post may help explain why. As of last month, Community Corrections will no longer seek ordinary extensions of probation without notice and a hearing. In other words, they will no longer seek “in chambers” extension orders, even when the defendant consents to them. Continue reading →