Sometimes in a criminal case, a court will craft alternative orders that require defendants to submit to electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration or a term of probation. This is often the case with defendants facing New York DWI and drug charges. These monitoring systems are not free and courts may order defendants to bear the financial burden associated with them. However, what happens when a defendant can no longer pay for cost?
A New York appellate court weighed in when a defendant appealed a jail term imposed on a lower court’s finding that he violated his probation. The defendant was convicted of a felony DWI and misdemeanor aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to a jail term, followed by probation. One condition of defendant’s probation was a requirement he wears and pays for a monitoring bracelet to confirm his abstinence from alcohol. The defendant stopped making payments after he claimed he lacked the finances to continue due to an injury that prevented him from working. The court found the defendant in violation of his probation and issued the jail sentence, which defendant appealed on the grounds the court had no authority to require he pay for the bracelet.
Sentencing Court Authority
The appellate court noted sentencing courts have broad discretion in imposing conditions “reasonably necessary to ensure that the defendant will lead a law-abiding life or to assist him to do so.” Probation may be ordered by a trial judge who determines close supervision rather than additional incarceration better serves the defendant and the public, so the court held costs of probation are permissible as they are “part and parcel of satisfaction of the condition itself” and help ensure the safety of both defendant and society during the term of probation.
Because of this broad grant of authority to New York’s sentencing courts, they held it was a permissible condition of probation to require the defendant to pay for the alcohol monitoring bracelet. The appellate court noted that the harms the sentencing court sought to avoid when imposing the condition “dwarfed” any punitive effect created by requiring defendant to pay for the bracelet. Failure to hold otherwise would consequently mean many courts would no longer view release into the community as a viable alternative to incarceration.
The court did, however, note that even though the defendant could be required to assume financial responsibility for completing terms of their probation, there were certain procedures a court should follow before finding them in violation of certain conditions. In this case, before holding the defendant in violation for failing to pay fees associated with the alcohol monitoring bracelet, the court should hold a hearing to determine whether a defendant could demonstrate a bona fide inability to pay costs associated with that particular condition. If so, the court must attempt to fashion a reasonable alternative to incarceration. If, however, the sentencing court determines that the defendant had an ability to pay and willfully refused to do so then ruling in favor of a probation violation and subsequent revocation is an appropriate outcome.
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