State v. Erickson: Probation Officers Given Too Much Power

Ugly opinion.  WA Supremes decided a court may issue a bench warrant without a formal finding of probable cause on the underlying allegations after the defendant fails to appear at a probation violation hearing.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=815941MAJ

Anthony Erickson received probation after he was convicted of fourth degree assault.  His probation officer alleged Erickson violated the terms of his probation.  Erickson was issued a summons ordering him to appear at a probation violation hearing.  When Erickson failed to appear, the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest.  Erickson was subsequently arrested.  A strip search at the jail revealed he possessed cocaine.

The WA Supremes reasoned that because Erickson failed to notify the court of any change of address, the judge in the lower court had a “well-founded suspicion” that Erickson had violated that condition of his release.  Consequently, the judge had authority to issue the bench warrant based on that alone.

My opinion?  It’s unbelievable that the allegations – and that’s all they are, mere allegations – of a probation officer are upheld as stone-cold truth by judges if a defendant fails to show up for a hearing.  It’s unbelievable that judges can now issue bench warrants because a defendant failed to notify their probation officer of an address change.  It’s unbelievable that defendants can be taken into custody, strip searched, and arrested because they failed to notify their probation officer of an address change.

This case highlights how unfairly the gears of the criminal justice system grind away at individual rights.  I hope this gets appealed to a higher court.