Probation: A Misunderstood Concept

A common sentiment that is often uttered by the criminal defendant is “Get me probation”. While that concept seems to have benefits on its face, the practicality of probation is far more difficult than what we one may initially think of the subject matter. Today, we will explore the subject with a textbook definition and hopefully provide an understanding of the term. iStock_000000182036XSmall-300x224

When we look for a definition of probation, “Black’s Law Dictionary” defines the topic as a period of supervision over an offender, ordered by the court instead of serving time in prison. In some jurisdictions, the term probation applies only to community sentences (alternatives to incarceration), such as suspended sentences while in others, probation also includes supervision of those conditionally released from prison on parole. An understanding of the concept in Michigan presents a different view the norm because in our state we combine the above-stated definition into a very unique blend. To understand this in greater detail, we have sought commentary from leaders in the criminal law sector to obtain their perspective.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a law firm that is known as the strongest within the state of Michigan. When asked about probation, Grabel stated, “What the defendant has to understand is that probation presents them a great opportunity at freedom. Sometimes, in exchange for incarceration, a term of probation could be the prosecutor banking on the fact that the defendant will not meet their obligations and the punishment forthcoming could be worse than what was initially offered. As lawyers, it is our obligation to train our clients on how to behave at this level.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When asked about the concept of probation, McManus provided commentary when he said, “Every court has a different view on probation. The way our firm looks at the concept is that the probation department is every bit as important as the prosecutor’s office and the bench. The probation department in Corunna is far different from the officer in Caro and so on and so forth. The lawyer needs to understand the dynamics involved in the PSI and address the issues accordingly, without such knowledge, we can set our clients’ up for failure.”

John Granger is a successful criminal defense lawyer in Arizona and explained his explanation of probation is his state displays how different the system can be viewed across the country. Granger provided the following commentary, “In Arizona, there are different levels of probation from intensive to unsupervised. There is even a court-supervised probation. You can sometimes work with the probation officer to get fees waived or reduce the level of probation for your client. Also, a violation of probation does not have to mean the client is going into custody. Discussions with the probation officer and jointly offering options to the judge can greatly aid the client.”

In the state of Michigan, probation violations are on the rise. When we look at the statistics, the numbers are shocking. To understand the number of probationers and the obstacles faced by probation departments across the country, we turned to research that was conducted by Danielle Kaeble who provided statistics for the Bureau Justice of Statistics. Kaebel’s research for the year ending 2016 displayed the following:

I. At year-end 2016, an estimated 4,537,100 adults were under community supervision (probation or parole), down 49,800 offenders (down 1.1%) from January 1, 2016.
II. Approximately 1 in 55 adults in the United States was under community supervision at year-end 2016.
III. The adult probation population declined by 1.4% from January 1, 2016, to December 1, 2016, falling by 52,500 (to 3,673,100).
IV. Probation exits increased from 2,043,200 in 2015 to 2,071,400 in 2016.
V. Exits from parole decreased from an estimated 463,700 in 2015 to 456,000 in 2016 (www.bjs.gov, April 16, 2018).

While the 1 in 55 number is shockingly high, that number is greatly increased in counties such as Michigan such as Wayne and Jackson. The attorney needs to advocate for their client while also understanding the burdens of the probation department. We have to be aggressive but also keep in mind that at the end of the day, a team effort should be the first option before greater legal battles ensue.

William C. Amadeo is a licensed attorney in Michigan, New Jersey, and the Federal Court system. Amadeo is a partner at Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan and a “Class Action Specialist/Of Counsel” for Timothy McIlwain in New Jersey. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and the owner of BAT Tutoring. Amadeo can be reached at Williamamadeo@Grabellaw.com.