Criminal Law: The Missouri Supreme Court Rules on Probation Revocation

Circuit judges have used probation as a mechanism to collect restitution and court costs from criminal defendants for years, but the Missouri Supreme Court issued its opinion yesterday clarifying the jurisdiction of courts to continue such conduct. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a consolidated hearing of two similar cases, made preliminary writs permanent finding that, in each case, the trial court did not have the authority to hold probation revocation hearings after the defendants’ probation terms ended because the trial courts did not make every reasonable effort to hold the hearings during the probation terms pursuant to section 559.036.8 RSMo.

Strauser received a five year term of probation. While on probation, the trial court suspended her probation for failing to pay restitution and scheduled a revocation hearing. Instead of ruling on the motion, the trial court continued the hearing 37 times in between when it scheduled the initial revocation hearing and when Strauser’s probation ended. Because the trial court could have ruled on the revocation motion earlier, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not make every reasonable effort to hold the hearing during her probationary period to satisfy section 559.036.8.

In the other case, Edmonds was placed on a five-year term of probation. The trial court suspended her probation and scheduled a revocation hearing. At the hearing, the trial court did not issue a ruling. Instead, it held 23 continuations of the hearing or case reviews. The trial court did not make every reasonable effort to conduct the revocation hearing during Edmonds’ probation term.

What does this ruling mean for criminal defendants who owe restitution and/or court costs and either are currently on probation or who might receive probation? The Court’s ruling has application primarily for defendants on probation for felony offenses. The end analysis is likely a longer period of time on probation for defendants. As a practical matter, most circuit judges typically suspend the imposition of sentence where restitution is the main objective of probation. The suspended imposition of sentence gives the court the opportunity to subsequently revoke probation, impose a sentence, suspend the execution of the sentence and place a person on a new five year term of probation. With this latest ruling, it appears that defendants owing court costs, and restitution in particular, will more frequently be serving ten (10) years of probation rather than five (5) years because the trial courts will timely revoke probation and impose a new term of probation to continue jurisdiction to collect restitution and costs.

The court cases consolidated on the opinion are State ex rel. Strauser v. Martinez, SC93340, and State ex rel. Edmonds v. Martinez, SC93345.

This article was written by Scott Hamblin, a shareholder at Brydon Swearengen & England P.C. in Jefferson City, Missouri. Scott practices in the area of federal and state criminal defense. Scott can be reached at www.scotthamblinlaw.com or www.brydonlaw.com.