ASK A NORML LAWYER - INSTALLMENT 7

Q: I was placed on deferred adjudication probation for possession of marijuana in a small Texas county, and was ordered by the judge to take the 15 hour Drug Offender Education Program.  The only class available in town conflicts with my work schedule, and I don’t know what to do.

What would happen if I finish the probation but don’t complete the class?

A: Well, that’s a good question and it’s definitely better that you’re asking it now, rather than waiting to find out what might or would happen later.

But, let’s back up a step.  I don’t believe your question actually encompasses what would happen.  It makes a false assumption.  Frankly, if you do not complete the class during the required time period you will not “finish the probation”.

Several months before a probationer’s term expires, any Community Supervision Department is going to automatically review the file to see whether or not the probationer has complied with all the terms.  Obviously, this also happens on a monthly basis as well, if the person is on a reporting probation.

What would happen, possibly 3 months before the probation ended, and possibly sooner than that, is that a Motion to Revoke Probation would be filed by the Probation/Community Supervision department.  This might be done by the person’s actual probation officer.  In larger counties, it is usually prepared by someone else – someone who has never even met the defendant and has no idea what the particular circumstances of the case are.  I say that to emphasize that your specific situation, which sounds like it should be considered, almost definitely will not be considered in the determination of whether or not the Department asks the Judge to revoke your probation.

Also, you say you are on deferred adjudication probation.  What that means is that the judge postponed (deferred) finding you guilty (adjudicating you guilty) and won’t ever find you guilty based on your plea… if you successfully complete the terms of the probation.

If you had even a halfway decent lawyer represent you when your case first went to court then this would have been explained to you.  But perhaps you had a crummy lawyer, who didn’t explain the situation properly, or, unfortunately in some small counties they encourage people to represent themselves.  (I say “unfortunately” because a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.)

Bottom line: completing the 15 Hour Drug Offender Education Program was part of the “agreement” you made with the court, in return for the deferred adjudication, i.e., not being convicted.  I’ll address whether or not that was actually a good bargain later, but let’s get back to answering the first question.

So, if you do not complete the class, eventually Probation will complain that you have violated the terms of your agreement and they will “notify” the judge.  I put the word “notify” in quotes, because what happens in most places (I suspect – it certainly happens around these parts) is that the Judge gets a huge stack of papers put on his desk, all of which are Motions to Revoke Probation or Motions to Revoke Bond, and other items that have nasty consequences for my soon-to-be clients.  Many judges rubber stamp these notices without doing much reading of the paperwork, and, even at the highest level of scrutiny, the Judge is not making a decision that you actually violated your probation, simply that the allegations, if proven, would constitute a violation. 

Then there’s one more step.  The judge chooses to either send a summons to the probationer, telling them they have to appear in court, or, much more likely, the judge issues a warrant for their arrest.  The most common outcome in that case is not that the police hit the pavement immediately looking to arrest you, but that they simply wait for you to walk into your regularly monthly meeting, and they arrest you there.

Now, I realize that in answering your question, I have yet to offer any solutions, and that I may seem unsympathetic to your plight.  I am not.  I feel for you.  There is no doubt that probation can be a something between a not-so-light inconvenience or even a huge pain in the you-know-what.  (Which is why I never advise my clients that probation is a good option; especially my clients that like to smoke marijuana.)

But now that you are on probation, you are much better off complying with the conditions than risking an almost certain revocation hearing.  Talk to your probation officer about other options.  There may be night and/or weekend classes available in a nearby larger county.  Or daytime classes somewhere else if you work nights and weekends.

Your probation officer wants you to keep your job.  (You do know this is largely about money, right?  Well, they want you employed so you can pay your $80-$100 per month to them!)  Perhaps you could get his or her permission to substitute an online course instead. 

However, at some point, whether probation loosens the noose a bit or not, you will almost definitely have to take that official 15 hour drug offender education program.  Your driver’s license can be suspended indefinitely  if you don’t. 

You’re in a tough spot no doubt.  But at this point, making the class somehow fit into your schedule is in your long term interest.  Good luck.  And get a lawyer that doesn’t put you in this position next time.  Or at the very least who explains what it is that you are getting yourself into.

Happy holidays everyone. ~