Woman's DUI case decision reversed

A judge reversed a woman's conviction and ordered a private probation company to give back $500 but declined to address the constitutional issues in Lisa Harrelson's habeas petition.

Sentinel Offenders Services, a for-profit private company that provides probation services for Richmond County State Court, also lost its counterbid to reopen a default judgment in Ms. Harrelson's petition.

In July 2007, after two days in jail, Ms. Harrelson pleaded guilty in State Court to driving under the influence of alcohol. She was sentenced to one year on probation. The judge also ordered her to pay $651 in fines and surcharges and a monthly probation fee of $35.

In an order signed Wednesday, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet wrote that the state cannot prove Ms. Harrelson's guilty plea was voluntary because the court proceeding was not recorded.

He also noted that Ms. Harrelson's guilty plea to an offense she did not commit was another reason to question the legality of the conviction.

Sentinel was properly served and chose not to answer Ms. Harrelson's allegation, Judge Overstreet wrote. Therefore the default judgment will stand. He ordered Sentinel to return the $500 Ms. Harrelson paid.

Judge Overstreet declined to rule on the constitutionality of the $50 fee to apply for a public defender.

Ms. Harrelson's attorney, John Long, said that she was denied legal counsel because she didn't have $50 to pay the fee.

The judge also declined to address the legality of a private company's ability, through the State Court, to increase its fees by requesting that probationary terms run consecutively instead of concurrently.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.