Missed Community Service
August 26, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

How can I best help a friend get out of jail? He accidentally missed his community service gig.

The background: About 7 years ago he was partying with some friends at one of their houses. He was 18, everyone was drunk, and out came the BB guns. He shot a guy in the ass. Nobody thought it was a big deal until a couple of weeks later when the cops showed up. Apparently the victim's mother doesn't appreciate jackass humor. His family was poor, they couldn't afford a lawyer, and he ended up being found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. The judge gave him time served and ordered him to do community service (I'm not sure how many hours were ordered). This was in Hays County, Texas.

What happened: Hays County required him to do 8 hours a month. He lives and works in adjacent Travis County, and they told him he's required to do 12 hours a month. He's married, wants to get on with his life, so he's been doing 16-21 hours per month for a while. In July he missed the weekend of July 4th, thinking that it would be a holiday. He has monthly probation meetings, and when he went in for his August meeting last Wednesday, he was immediately arrested and sent to the Travis County jail, where he's been ever since. Bail is set at $100,000. He was under the mistaken impression that his community service hours roll over month to month. He was on track to have all of this finished by January 2009. Apparently it either doesn't work this way at all, or it does, and it's just a clerical matter.

What's going on: Travis County is holding him until Hays County requests him to go before a judge. At that time he'll be moved from the Travis jail to the Hays jail. We've been told this could take ten business days, so he might not see the judge until nextWednesday, which means he might sit in jail for two weeks. His wife tried to call his probation officer to explain what's going on, and that he was far ahead of schedule for community service, but she can't get past the assistant. The assistant has been curt and bluntly said "We don't have to tell you anything".

His wife has talked to a lawyer in Hays County, and his first order of business will be to try to reduce the bail. That's not going to happen, however, until she retains the lawyer for $2,500, which is far beyond her means at the moment. She's working on putting a lot of things on Craigslist, and a few friends are throwing some stuff into a garage sale, but even if bail is cut in half, she's still looking at $2,500 + $5,000 = $7,500 just to get him out on bond, and there's still the possibility that he'll go back to jail for missing community service.

Does that seem probable? We can't get anyone to give us a straight answer here, and the court-appointed attorney is completely overwhelmed, and has basically suggested a "mercy of the court" defense. We're really hoping that this finally gets to the judge, who will hear the back story, see that he's been doing 21+ hours of community service a month when only 8 is required, and declare this upstanding, tax-paying citizen free to go.

We're kinda looking for any advice we can get here. I know you're not a lawyer (but I hope you are), and you're specifically not his lawyer. We're working on getting a lawyer, so until then, hope us.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There is something else going on here. I've known enough people on probation and doing community service to know that unless your PO has it out for you, you're not going to jail for missing one week of community service, and especially not with $100,000 bail.

Of course, the people I've known who have had community service have just been required to do x hours by y date.
posted by wierdo at 3:04 PM on August 26, 2008

Response by poster: If there's something else going on, how can we find out ASAP? Everything I've posted above I've learned from his wife, whom I have no reason to distrust.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:10 PM on August 26, 2008

I don't haved an answer for you, but I agree, something doesn't sound right here... no court is going to use those kind of resources in this situation, not in today's economy...

My suggestion...Pay for a hour's time with a good defense attorney from THAT county and ask him/her for advice... she's out $200 bucks or so, but will have better information...
posted by HuronBob at 3:18 PM on August 26, 2008

This clearly isn't right. Your friend most know what the real situation is. If he (or his wife, who may not know the true story herself) doesn't want to let you in on it, then this doesn't need to be your cause.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:25 PM on August 26, 2008

Either he didn't tell his wife the whole story, or she didn't tell you the whole story, but I agree with the other posters that the story you've been given doesn't hold water.

You say he's been doing community service faithfully for 7 years (that, in itself, doesn't sound probable, since community service is usually fairly short-term) and that he missed one day and was immediately arrested and bail was set at $100,000.00? (that's an astronomical bail for someone whose original offense was 7 years ago and who has supposedly been an upstanding citizen in the ensuing years). It sounds like he's committed some other offense that you don't know about.

Unfortunately, you as a friend (a non-relative) probably won't be able to get access to too much information about his case, but if he's been charged with some other offense it should be a matter of public record. You can try calling the jail and asking to speak with the public information officer, or call the court and ask to speak to the court clerk. Be friendly and polite, and you might get someone to tell you what's actually going on.
posted by amyms at 3:32 PM on August 26, 2008

I assume there's no relevant information in the inmate information system?
posted by Mike1024 at 3:46 PM on August 26, 2008

Just brainstorming here, but maybe a local reporter has contacts within the police department that could help you figure out what's going on. It's clearly not what you've been told.
posted by desjardins at 4:13 PM on August 26, 2008

I was placed on 10 years probation in Williamson County and am serving it for only one more year in Travis County. In those counties, just next door to you, you're sentenced to a total number of hours of community service and then told you have to do a minimum number of hours a month until you've completed the total number of hours. You CAN and are encouraged to do more than the minimum hours of community service.

If they did start a probation revocation proceedings because of not doing community service, and he has indeed been doing that many hours, it's not because he missed a weekend. It's because there has been some snafu with doing the community service in Travis County and it somehow not getting into the Hays County computer system.

If this was the case, it should have been brought up a LONG time ago.

Additionally, for minor violations of the probation agreement, usually someone on probation is scheduled for an Administrative Hearing with the head of the probation office and told to shape up or they'll file a motion with the court to revoke the probation. Even failing a spot drug-test usually ends up with an Administrative Hearing and not going directly to jail.

For them to throw him in jail during a probation meeting indicates to me that it's something more serious such as being charged with another crime (even minor) and not informing his probation officer.

I hope things work out for your friend. If you want me to do some digging, I have an account on publicdata.com and am very good at searching the open and public databases. For instance, the City of Austin has a website where you can see if people have warrants. You can also search their misdemeanor and ticket database.

If he had a warrant for a ticket he didn't take care of, that's a violation of his probation. If he got some other charge, especially drug or alcohol related, and didn't inform his probation officer, that's another major violation.

Send me a private message if I can help with anything else.
posted by lockle at 4:37 PM on August 26, 2008

I am a criminal defense attorney. To answer your question: the best way to help get your friend out of jail is to ensure that he has an attorney. Beyond that, there is nothing that you personally can do to help get him out of jail.
posted by kellygreen at 7:29 PM on August 26, 2008

"[T]he best way to help get your friend out of jail is to ensure that he has [a good criminal defense] attorney [from Hays County]."
posted by GPF at 9:51 AM on August 27, 2008

Response by poster: Here's an update: After spending 15 days in jail, his wife was able to pull some resources together to pony up $5,000 for a lawyer. That lawyer talked to the judge that day, and the day after that he walked out of jail. The lawyer is apparently baffled as to why the probation officer is being such a hardass about the situation, but has advised my friend to knock out as many community service hours as possible between now and his court date, which is in a week or so.

Apparently the letter of the law says the he can still face time in prison up to ten years, but his lawyer thinks that because he'll have a chance to explain the situation in court, everything will be ok. So far the three attorneys they've consulted with (before finding their currently lawyer) have said that his original public defender did an amazingly poor job advising him to plead guilty and accept the charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Everyone has said that he should have had no problem pleading down to a lesser charge, especially since it was his first offense, but that's water under the bridge at this point.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:10 PM on September 9, 2008

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