Georgia courts that handle misdemeanor and local ordinance violation cases aren’t held to the same legal standard as Superior Court, which must appoint legal representation to poor people facing probation revocations for felony offenses.
The latest interpretation from a Georgia appellate court was in a 2005 opinion that stated there is no constitutional right to an attorney during a misdemeanor revocation hearing. The court’s logic is that a revocation hearing isn’t a criminal hearing.
An examination of more than 6,000 revocation cases in Richmond County revealed 42 percent of the probationers were revoked and sent to jail.
Lowndes County State Court Chief Judge John Kent Edwards Jr. and DeKalb County State Court Judge Wayne Purdom both said they believe their courts are ruled by a federal case that says counsel should be appointed to a probationer if requested, based on certain criteria, including the complexity of the hearing and the accused’s ability to communicate with the judge.
Edwards and Purdom, however, each take a more lenient position and appoint attorneys in probation revocation cases unless it is refused. Edwards’ court also provides probationers with a written notice that lists 12 ways an attorney can help in such hearings.
In Richmond County State Court, lawyers are not appointed for probation revocation hearings. Of the 6,000-plus cases The Augusta Chronicle reviewed, only 4 percent had legal representation.
“I wish everybody had an attorney quite frankly, because it helps the courts when they have counsel,” Richmond County State Court Chief Judge Richard Slaby said. People who are assigned attorneys are usually facing a new
The issue of probation revocation is fairly simple, Slaby said. Either the probationer did or didn’t comply with the court-ordered terms, such as paying fines, doing community service or attending risk reduction classes, Slaby said.
He believes he doesn’t revoke probationers and send them to jail just for failure to pay. Of the 42 percent of probationers revoked, Slaby said he was confident it was due to more than failing to make
But most of the court orders revoking probation state the probationers may be released from jail if they pay up. Judges are prohibited from jailing someone who is unable to pay fines and fees because he is indigent.
“However, without a lawyer to represent the person who is facing incarceration, the system unjustly puts the burden on the indigent person who is unable to pay in the untenable position of trying to convince the court not to send him or her to jail for his or her failure to pay,” said Kate Mason, the Augusta Judicial Circuit’s public defender.