This week we appeared in court to help a client charged with a probation violation in the Prince William Circuit Court. Approximately five years ago, with a different law firm, he had been convicted of Robbery. He served a few years in prison and was released on probation.
While on probation, it is alleged that he violated the terms of his probation by getting convicted of Possession of Marijuana and Possession of Paraphernalia. Both are misdemeanors. He has a dozen years in prison over his head.
Probation violations are usually initiated by a probation officer reporting a violation to the judge. The judge then issues a Bench Warrant, which is the same thing as an arrest warrant. Once the person is arrested, he has a hearing on the alleged violation. He has to show cause, if any, why he should not serve the suspended portion of his prison sentence. (Usually, one convicted of a crime has “suspended” imposed in addition to the time he actually sits in prison so that there can be a penalty if he violates the terms of his probation).
Once our client learned of the outstanding Bench Warrant, he immediately surrendered to the police — with our oversight so that we could coordinate on the easiest, most civilized processing. As he surrendered, we simultaneously filed a Bond Motion in an effort to secure his pre-hearing release.
When one is charged with any crime (including a probation violation), the trial or hearing is scheduled at least a month or two into the future. The accused is held in jail unless it appears to the court that he or she is neither a danger to the community nor a risk of not returning to court voluntarily. If the judge is satisfied that a pretrial release is appropriate, the judge will set a bond. This can mean anything from requiring the accused to post bail money — this is like a security deposit — to setting conditions, such as pretrial supervision by a probation officer.
Obviously, when one has been convicted of Robbery and is on probation, an alleged probation violation is a serious thing. The court can punish the person for the violation even though there may have been a punishment for the new crime. This is not “double punishment” because there are two crimes: the probation violation and the underlying crime (in this case, the alleged misdemeanor conviction).
Fortunately, there were very strong mitigating circumstances in our client’s case. Combined with the fact that he self-surrendered, the judge released him on a very low bond. The judge also allowed him return to his home state of North Carolina pending the probation violation hearing.
The hearing on the alleged probation violation was set out a few months. Even though the probation violation is on a charge of Robbery, we feel good that a judge will credit the strong mitigating circumstances that we are organizing for presentation and, if he finds our client to be in violation, that he will impose only a minor punishment.