A black woman and her husband were driving in Baltimore on Christmas night following a family get-together. The wife was driving, and she was pulled over initially for driving 38 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. speed zone. She was also, as it was later determined, driving while slightly intoxicated; her BAC being tested at .09 or over the .07 limit of Maryland law. And from there, from this minor offense things unravel as the New York Times reports, Probation Sounds like, but Penalty Can Land Hard.
The driver, Donyelle Hall, was arrested, even though that was not the normal practice in cases where there had been no injury or other aggravating factor. However, there may have been what in reality is an "aggravating factor" in Baltimore: Ms. Hall is black, and the police officer who arrested her noted on his form that she had exhibited an "antagonistic" demeanor. I cannot say with certainty what may have been the motivation for her arrest; I cannot say with certainty that Ms. Hall's arrest offers circumstances and facts that suggest the harsh and different treatment that African-Americans in this country too often find themselves subjected.
Usually, in Baltimore an arrestee on a DUI charge is released on an ROR bond, which is basically a promise to appear in court when scheduled. One would think that particularly appropriate for Ms. Hall, given that she had a steady job, no prior criminal history and no injuries or accident was involved in her arrest. Nevertheless, an unnamed in the story court commissioner set bail at $25,000. There is no legitimate explanation for this exorbitant and excessive bail, although the explanation may very well be the bad marks for "demeanor" that were reported by the arresting police officer.
Ms. Hall pleaded guilty to the DUI charge in exchange for a probation without judgment (a disposition referred to in Baltimore as a "PBJ"), which meant that she could have the conviction erased from her records as she complied with the terms of her probation. As I calculated from the article, she was at that point out-of-pocket $7462.50, which seems quite a lot for someone whose job is a nurses aide for severely disabled individuals. This amount comes from the following: $2000 for bail; $1890 for supervised probation ($105 per month for 18 months); $1500 for attorneys fees; $252.50 for court costs; and $1820 for alcohol counseling classes ($70 per week for 26 weeks).
The judge in Ms. Hall's case, Judge Joan Bossmann Gordon of Maryland District Court in Baltimore, does not distinguish herself. For reasons unexplained Judge Gordon required Ms. Hall, as a term of her probation, to receive permission from the judge should she wish to move. As matters develop, the judge incorrectly concluded at one point that Ms. Hall had moved without permission and issued a summons for her to show cause in court as to why her probation should not be revoked. The judge was mistaken, and the summons was served on Ms. Hall at her residence. Nevertheless, protracted proceedings and multiple court appearances were necessary for Judge Gordon to get it straight that Ms. Hall had not in fact moved or otherwise violated the terms of her probation. Nevertheless, Judge Gordon, in demonstrating that justice is in fact both blind to reality and actual fact sometimes, lectured Ms. Hall “At this point, ma’am, you have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot do on probation without getting permission.” Sure Judge whatever you say.
Still later, Ms. Hall was unable to provide documentary proof that she was attending all the AA meetings that the terms of her probation required her to attend, although her attendance at the alcohol education classes that she was paying for had been, according to the counselor, "excellent." Again, she was arrested and served 34 days in jail. Although Ms. Hall claims that she did attend and was simply "terrible" at keeping records, my own 25 years plus work as a public defender and criminal defense lawyer suggests to me that she did not in fact attend the meetings. Being "terrible" at properly maintaining records is one thing, a thing that it time can prove inconvenient. Failing to keep records that you know full well are required by the terms of your probation is quite another. Failing to attend classes that you are required by the terms of your probation is a violation; it may be that the classes were not necessary and were, in fact, and unnecessary imposition on Ms. Hall. Even if all that may be, she still agreed to go as a term of her probation and it does seem reasonable to both expect and require her to live up to that. 34 days in jail for not doing so is a little harsh, but it was not that hard to avoid.
Ms. Hall created some of her own problems – she drove a little too fast while a little intoxicated (at least as intoxicated as defined under Maryland law) and then either failed to attend or failed to keep records of attending the AA meetings – and some she had imposed upon her including a police officer that arrested her for no apparent or good reason, an exorbitant and excessive bail for which there is no apparent or good reason, and a judge either unwilling or incapable of determining without multiple court appearances in hearings that Ms. Hall had in fact not moved.
Probation in many instances can be both far more effective and cost-effective than imprisonment. Those terms were overdone in Ms. Hall's case, and she did not help herself by her own conduct. The result is what you two often have in the criminal justice system: simple injustices and a mess.