I spent most of the morning today in Judge Michael Murphy's specialized misdemeanor DV court for the VOP (violation of probation) pretrial conferences, hearings and pleas. VOP hearings are important to monitor because it's really where the rubber meets the road. Is the Court going to hold the defendant accountable (post-conviction) if he/she fails to comply with the terms of their probation? Or will they get a "slap on the wrist" and suffer no real consequences?
A defendant can be violated by their probation officer for several reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the original offense. They might fail to keep appointments with their probation officer, pay the costs associated with supervision, test positive for drug usage, etc. Or they might not do what they were instructed to do when sentenced: successfully enroll in and complete classes, evaluations, or treatment programs. Or they might be arrested for new offenses. Additionally, defendants in DV cases will sometimes violate "no contact" or "no hostile contact" orders that were part of their sentence.
Most of the defendants in court today had failed to either enroll in BIP (Batterer's Intervention Program) or had been dismissed by the BIP for reasons that weren't given in open court. Judge Murphy does an excellent job of "selling" defendants on the merits of BIP - explaining that many people benefit from having participated in the program. He even offers defendants the opportunity to avoid jail by revoking (cancelling) their probation, putting them back on pretrial release (which requires weekly supervision), and giving them time to enroll and complete the BIP program - but he hangs a 365 day jail sentence over their head if they fail to comply. CourtWatch would like to see this suspended sentence be a part of their original sentence instead of giving them the opportunity to not comply for several months before having to come before the judge again. Additionally, the defendant is required to come to court every 60 days for a status hearing until they've complied. If they're found to have not complied, the cuffs are slapped on and it's off to 33rd Street they go.
UNFORTUNATELY, it doesn't always work out that way. In State v. Mark William Alvarado (2008MM2643), Judge Murphy only slapped the cuffs on the defendant for 90 days for his repeated failure to comply. Alvarado was adjudicated guilty in May, 2008 of two counts of violating an injunction, got 7 days jail with credit for time served, was ordered into BIP and told to have no contact with the victim. He was also to have a psych evaluation & counseling. Nearly 10 months later, in February 2009, he got another chance to enroll in BIP (having previously failed to do so). In April, another violation was recorded and subsequently amended the following month. Alvarado then failed to appear for his June hearing, so a capias was issued. He appeared 2 weeks later and the capias was quashed (recalled). His July 1st hearing was rescheduled to July 29th when he admitted to violating his probation and was sentenced to 365 days with today being his "turn in date." I learned that the judge had told Mr. Alvarado that if he showed up today, he would give him 90 days instead of the 365, which is what happened.
Judge Murphy does a very good job on the "front end" of his cases - setting terms of pretrial release, bond, etc. CourtWatch would like to see him follow through with more "rubber on the road" in the VOP hearings.