Defendant Challenges the Limits of a Court’s Ability to Fashion Probation Terms

In many cases, a defendant may find that a plea bargain is in his or her best interest. A judge has wide latitude in determining what the conditions of probation will be. A recent case has affirmed a Court’s ability to restrict someone from driving as a condition of probation.

Probation Ordered After Accident

The case arose when the defendant was accused of trying to pass another driver. While doing so, the Defendant allegedly exceeded the speed limit, in the lane going in the opposite direction. The Defendant crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Both occupants of the oncoming vehicle later died.

Before trial for this accident, the Defendant plead “no contest,” and was sentenced to jail time followed by probation. For three of the probation years, the Court ordered that the Defendant would not be permitted to operate a motor vehicle.

During the time the Defendant was on probation, he did in fact drive, received a motor vehicle citation, and was arrested for violating the terms of his probation. This time, the court ordered that he never be permitted to operate a vehicle.

Probation is Challenged

The Defendant appealed this decision. He contended that the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) had exclusive authority to dictate who does and does not drive, and that the court could not step on or alter that authority without violating separation of powers.

Although he had actually consented to the initial driving restriction as part of his plea deal, the Defendant argued that was irrelevant, as someone cannot consent to an illegal sentence.

The Court drew a distinction between restricting someone’s ability to drive, and formal revocation of a driver’s license. The latter is, in fact, exclusively something the MVA and not a Court can determine. But the former is not regulated by the MVA. Put another way, a defendant’s driving privileges can be altered both ways, and each falls under different authority.

The Court felt that nothing in the MVA laws, restricts a judge’s ability to restrict someone from physically operating a vehicle as a condition of probation.

Even to the extent that there may be some ambiguity, the Court still did not feel there was any separation of powers violation. The Court noted that the doctrine is flexible, and that in many cases, overlap between branches may occur as a result of “constitutional elasticity”; the notion that the constitution is not a rigid document but is flexible.

Lastly, the Court noted that the purpose of the judicial system is to protect the public, to punish, and to encourage proper behavior, whereas the MVA’s goal is regulation and law making. Thus, although the subject—the ability of people to drive—may overlap, the goals of each branch’s authority are different. Thus, the Court held there was no constitutional prohibition on a Court prohibiting someone from driving as a condition of probation.

Make sure your attorney understands your rights at all stages of the criminal trial process. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss representation from arrest to trial.