Fighting the good fight
I was over in court the other day, entering my third hour of waiting for a plea and sentencing, when the bailiff asked me if I wanted to handle a probation violation hearing. I hadn't done one in quite a while, so I asked another lawyer, who was entering his third hour of waiting for the prosecutor to find the file, what the fee for PV's was anymore. "Fifty bucks, I think."
Good, I figured, now I can have the operation. "Sure," I told the bailiff, and she handed me the stack of papers that had landed my client -- we'll call him Shawn -- a date with the judge.
It turns out Shawn wasn't that bad a guy. He was twenty-six, and this was his first offense. He'd apparently stolen some checks from his employer and tried to cash them at a Dairy Mart. Didn't work out so well. He'd been offered a shot at the diversion program, which would have let him get out of the whole scrape without a criminal record if he paid off the $791 in bad checks, but that stopped being a possibility when he was capiased for failing to show up for a pretrial -- on two separate occasions. He wound up pleading out to a single count of theft, with the state dropping the charges of forgery and receiving stolen property. He got probation, for just a year, with the usual conditions: don't get into trouble, find a job, and pay back what you took. That was in September of 2007, so it seemed like a good bet when Shawn entered the home stretch in the summer of this year that he'd make it.
Well, not quite. He came up positive for marijuana in early June, and obviously was aware that something might go awry with his test: he showed with a condom full of urine that he was going to use to fake his way through it. (They have people checking for those things. Nice job, huh? Must be some great conversations over the family dinner table at night.) The probation officer also noted that Shawn still didn't have a job, and hadn't paid a dime of his court costs and restitution. He put in a violation on Shawn, but the judge simply extended his probation until December and told him to get his act together.
So the next month, Shawn tests positive for marijuana again, still hasn't gotten a job, and still hasn't paid anything. And that's where I am last Thursday.
Before we go out for the hearing, the judge pulls me aside, tells me he's tired of my guy, and is going to give him nine months. I tell him what Shawn's told me: he's working for a landscaping company, and gave the evidence of that to his probation officer, but the PO's on vacation; we need a continuance of a week. The judge shrugs that off, and says okay, he'll give Shawn seven months.
We go out for the hearing, and I put on a good dog and pony show, about how this is Shawn's first offense and now that he's got a job he can start making payments and wouldn't it be a waste of the taxpayer's money to send Shawn away for, essentially, smoking marijuana. Shawn does his part, sounding sincere, and the judge finally relents and agrees to continue him on probation, telling him in no uncertain terms that the next time there'll be no excuses, and Shawn will do a full year.
We go outside so I can get Shawn to sign my fee bill. He's got no problems on that score; he knows he dodged a bullet. "That was pretty close, huh?" he says to me.
I smile. "If I was you, kid, I'd go out and buy a lottery ticket." He looks at me, perplexed. "Because you're never going to be luckier than you are today." He laughs, but I remind him that he needs to stay off the weed, keep his job, and make payments on the costs and restitution. Needs to do that. It is so very, very important that he do that. Shawn's a good-looking kid, and he's maybe 5'8", 130 pounds, and they'll eat him up in prison. I don't tell him that part. Maybe I should have.
Because yesterday I call the bailiff to get the case number to put on my fee bill. She had Shawn's file right on her desk. "He picked up a new case on Saturday," she tells me.
Oh, that plea and sentencing I was there for to begin with? My guy copped to six years. No big deal, he says. "I'll only be twenty-six when I get out." I remember the times I had between the ages of twenty and twenty-six. I don't think I would have those experiences if there'd been bars on my windows.