Georgia Supreme Court rules on for-profit probation monitoring companies

Probation, while better than the alternative, can still provide defendants with difficulties. On the one hand, probation can allow a defendant to avoid jail time and maintain a job. On the other, some conditions of probation can be difficult to meet, such as the financial obligations regarding monitoring equipment, which can be expensive. The failure to pay for such equipment can result in a probation violation and lead to jail time. Alleged violations of probation, therefore, are serious matters. However, recently the way Georgia outsources its probation monitoring received some scrutiny, as well as a lawsuit.

Constitutionality of probation law questioned

In 2000, Georgia passed a law that made local counties responsible for probation supervision, rather than the Georgia Department of Corrections. In turn, some counties turned to for-profit companies to help monitor defendants who received probation. Several people on probation subsequently brought a lawsuit claiming this was unconstitutional, as some probationers who could not pay their debts ended up with lengthened probation. The case rose all the way to the state's highest court.

In November 2014, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the law. "While the supervision of probation is a function historically performed by state probation officers, the mere act of privatizing these services does not violate due process," Chief justice Hugh Thomson wrote in the unanimous opinion. However, the justices held that electronic monitoring by private companies, while legal as a condition of probation, cannot lengthen the order of the original sentencing court.

It is the duty of the sentencing court to determine whether a defendant should be on probation, as well as the length and conditions of that probation. Georgia's highest court sent the case back to lower court to determine whether some of the plaintiffs could recover fees they say they were improperly forced to pay to private, for-profit companies who were monitoring them electronically and who had extended their sentences for failure to pay.

Misdemeanor offenses and probation violation

When it comes to criminal charges, there is no such thing as a "slap on the wrist." Misdemeanor charges such as first-time driving under the influence can have serious consequences, even if they don't initially come with lengthy prison sentences.

Georgians who have been charged with a misdemeanor should contact the experienced criminal defense attorney Tracy Teiger at the Teiger Law Center, P.C. A sentencing court has discretion when determining sentencing, which can be affected by plea bargaining, probation conditions, and other factors. An experienced attorney can help a defendant understand their options, the consequences and conditions of probation, and other aspects of their criminal case.

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