Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Five Court Appearances for a Violation of Probation



After shooting his cousin in the neck and a stranger in the back in Gaithersburg, Maryland I was able to generate enough evidence to reduce attempted murder charges down to the misdemeanors reckless endangerment. At the time of the guilty plea my client was given no jail time but was given 18 months of probation in front of a very tough judge. Any violation of his probation conditions would lead to the two years of backup time. This the judge promised.

My client generally did well on probation. He had a job, he was obtaining his GED, he was in counseling and he was very active in his baby's life. Unfortunately, my client felt that he needed to use marijuana. He was missing many of his urine tests but the probation officer let that slide. Finally, the police were conducting a raid at a home for a different person and my client happened to be there and he happened to have six small bags of marijuana in his pockets. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and this would be a violation of his probation.

I was able to beat the marijuana charges using a constitutional argument.

The original sentencing judge did not care. He issued a warrant for my client's arrest. My client turned himself in. I appeared with my client at the initial bond hearing. At the bond hearing the judge was already trying the violation of probation case. He was already finding my client in violation of his probation. I argued this was obviously not proper and we were here merely to set his bond. The judge revoked his bond. I asked for a probation hearing to be set in the near future.

Despite the fact that he was acquitted on the possession of marijuana the judge insisted on going forward with the violation of probation. Frankly, that is the state of the law in Maryland. The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof in a violation of probation case is by a preponderance of the evidence and the quality of the evidence is much less substantial. Nonetheless, I was able to research case law and found that in Maryland normally hearsay evidence is not permitted at a violation of probation hearing. At the first hearing for violation of probation the prosecution did not have its officers to prove the case. The prosecutor, the probation agent were both pushing to have probation continued and if my client did well on probation to withdraw the hearing. This judge would have none of that. He ordered the prosecutor to get a transcript of the marijuana trial and use that as evidence at the next violation of probation hearing.

At the next violation of probation hearing the prosecutor had the transcript but did not have the chemist for the drugs. I argued that the transcript would violate my clients constitutional right to confront witnesses and cited the Maryland cases which supported this position. The judge accepted that and the prosecutor was able to get some of the officers to come to court that day. We had a trial but at the end of the trial the judge postponed the case because the chemist was unavailable.

On the next trial date the chemist was late. I put on five witnesses to establish everything my client had been doing well while on probation. One witness was particularly effective. He works at the Upper County Youth Center. He testified that my client was at the youth center three to four times a week for three to four hours a day studying for his GED. He was also receiving counseling from this witness. The judge was paying close attention.

Finally the chemist showed up and was able to prove that the marijuana in the bags was indeed marijuana. The judge was convinced that my client was guilty of possession of marijuana and violating probation.

The judge was ready to give my client the full backup time. I was able to successfully argue that it would be unfair. My client had spent most of his time on probation doing the right thing-working, getting counseling, getting a GED, trying to get his driver's license. The judge finally relented and instead of giving the full backup time gave 18 months of local time with a consideration for the work release Center in Montgomery County which would allow my client to spend his days working rather than being locked up. This was very unusual for this judge.

Although I did not prevail for my client I appeared five times in court on the violation of probation (there was an initial appearance before another judge regarding a bond hearing), I had law to support my client's position and I had fact witnesses to help in mitigation of sentencing. I fought the state's tooth and nail and at least was able to achieve two things. My client did not get the full backup time. My client is eligible for work release.
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