Though this blog is was originally intended as a resource for offenders in Massachusetts, much of what I write about is applicable to sex offenders in every other state and many countries around the world, especially in Western Europe. Even other non-sex offenders trying to navigate prison, probation and parole, or employment and education opportunities can glean relevant information from this blog and apply it to help overcome their own struggles.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Judge's Lens

If you wondered about how judges typically look at probation, violations, modifying conditions, and sentencing you back to prison then read this excerpt from the Commonwealth vs. Ralph W. Goodwin decision just handed down from the SJC.  If you are on probation - especially GPS monitoring - you should read the decision in it's entirety.  For the next few weeks, you can find the "slip opinion" whereafter the decision can be found in the "opinion archive" of the SJC Reporter website.   
As someone on probation, it behooves you to know how judges perceive people like you and me.  This becomes of particularly important when you are standing in front of a judge to change your conditions or in the event of a violation hearing.

Excerpt From Commonwealth vs. Ralph W. Goodwin
September 17, 2010
"Probation is a legal disposition that conditions the release of a defendant on his compliance with conditions deemed appropriate by the sentencing judge. See Commonwealth v. Durling, 407 Mass. 108, 111-112 (1990). If a defendant violates one or more conditions of probation, a judge may revoke his probation and sentence him to a term of imprisonment for his underlying conviction, or return the defendant to probation, with new or revised conditions. [FN5] See id. Therefore, for a defendant, any condition of probation poses the risk that its violation may result in the revocation of probation and the end of his conditional release from imprisonment."

"The two principal goals of probation are rehabilitation of the defendant and protection of the public. See 
Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 403 (1998); Mariano v. Judge of Dist. Court of Cent. Berkshire, 243 Mass. 90, 93 (1922) ("purpose [of probation] ... is to enable the person to get on his feet, to become law abiding and to lead a useful and upright life under the fostering influence of the probation officer"). While these goals are intertwined, because a defendant who is rehabilitated is not committing further crimes, they remain distinct, because a probation condition that protects the public from the defendant may not advance the likelihood of his rehabilitation. The success of probation as a correctional tool depends on judges having the flexibility at sentencing to tailor probation conditions to the circumstances of the individual defendant and the crime that he committed. Commonwealth v. Lapointe, 435 Mass. 455, 459-460 (2001)."

"Under Mass. R.Crim. P. 29(a), 378 Mass. 899 (1979), the power of a trial judge to revise or revoke a criminal disposition is severely limited. Under rule 29(a), a trial judge may revise or revoke a sentence only on her own motion or the written motion of a defendant filed within sixty days after the imposition of sentence, [FN6] and "may not take into account conduct of the defendant that occurs subsequent to the original sentencing." 
Commonwealth v. Barclay, 424 Mass. 377, 380 (1997). However, the addition of reasonable conditions to a defendant's probation does not constitute a revision or revocation of a sentence under rule 29(a). See Buckley v. Quincy Div. of the Dist. Court Dep't, 395 Mass. 815, 818-819 (1985) (Buckley )."

"Under our common law, a judge has authority to modify or add conditions of probation "to serve 'the ends of justice and the best interests of both the public and the defendant.' " 
Id. at 817, quoting Burns v. United States, 287 U.S. 216, 221 (1932). [FN7] Just as judges have considerable discretion at sentencing in establishing the terms of probation, they also have the discretion to modify those conditions "as a proper regard for the welfare, not only of the defendant but of the community, may require." Buckley, supra at 818, quoting Commonwealth v. McGovern, 183 Mass. 238, 240 (1903)."

"Where a defendant has violated a condition of his probation, a judge's authority to modify or add conditions of probation is nearly unlimited should the judge decide not to imprison the defendant but to return him to probation."