Posted by on February 25, 2010

The bulk of my practice is civil law – employment, litigation, corporate. However, I do some court-appointed criminal defense work, just misdemeanors and traffic violations at this point.

One of the more common misdemeanors I encounter is probation violation. Violations come in many forms, and in these tough times, one of the most common is economic – failure to pay court costs, fines, or probation monitoring fees. Others include failure to pursue counseling or intervention programs, failed drug tests, curfew violations, or committing a crime while on probation.

For the most part, I hate probation violations. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll fight as hard as I can with what I have to keep you out and on probation, to get you more time to pay, etc.

Sure, if someone’s unemployed or only working part-time and can’t pay the fees, I understand. And in almost every case, the judge will understand, too. Often, they’ll give more time, or even reduce or waive the fees. IF money is the only problem.

However, if you test dirty for drugs week after week; if you violate your curfew repeatedly (and commit crimes or traffic offenses while out after your curfew); and if you fail to keep your obligations for counseling or drug treatment, why would you expect the court to let you back out to keep doing that?

To my point, at this stage in the representation, the client (or the spouse) will often plead with me to get them back out, because they need to take care of their kids. “What am I going to do about my babies? My wife has to work.” I explain, time and again, that the time to care about the kids is BEFORE you violate your probation (and arguably, BEFORE you commit the crime in the first place). If you were that worried about the kids, why were you out driving without a license in the middle of the night? Why were you spending your money (that your spouse works hard to earn) on drugs and alcohol? That money will pay for child care so YOU can work, and pay the probation fees.

I don’t lack for sympathy, mind you; I realize we all have different priorities. This is a point I try to make when I teach budgeting to teens: Priorities are NOT what you SAY is important to you; priorities are defined by what you actually choose to do over something else. You can SAY your priority is your kids, but if you’re spending money on drugs, alcohol, and tobacco while your kids go hungry, your priorities are seriously messed up.

The time to come to terms with your priorities – to decide what you really care about – is BEFORE those priorities get you in trouble, not after.

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