After I posted about the bill to allow deferred adjudication for DWI, I received the following email from a reader, who gave me permission to publish it.
Deferred adjudication (D.A) ….My brother had it because of a DWI in the early 1990s and failed miserably through it. The conditions of D.A. are so onerous that it’s easy to trip up. One time he had a substance abuse relapse, and missed going to the parole officer because he knew his drug test would not be clean (and didn’t pay his fine for the month either). As a result, the Harris County parole officer issued a warrant for his arrest which eventually sent him to prison for 2 years. I tried to intervene and suggest a way that he might turn himself in voluntarily and pay a fine in exchange for the 1 missed visit. But the parole officer said, once the warrant was issued, there was no rescinding it. In other words, there was no incentive for my brother to turn himself in, so he found a retail management job and worked there for a year. For a year, he supported his family without any further drug relapses until the police finally caught up with him (they always do because they can find a work address through your IRS/W2 information). Ironically, despite the fact that my brother was working legitimately and raising a family without drug or alchohol relapses, after he was re-arrested for missing the parole visit, the state sued him for child support even though he was still married. Apparently when he was locked up, his wife applied for food stamps and CHIP for the children. The State of Texas wanted that money back. Of course, he eventually had to explain to the court that the only reason he couldn’t support the children was because the state had locked him up in the first place.
During those two years when he was in prison for breaking the terms of his deferred adjudication, the mother and her children also went basically homeless, having to double up with various family members.
This year my brother had another DWI (after one he had 14 years ago). Due to some fluke in the law, he ended up being classified as a repeat offender and rather than take 5 or 10 years of hard time, he plea bargained for 1 month jail time + 6 months rehab + probation. That was considered “lenient” in Texas.
The result: he lost his well-paying management job, and his wife and 3 young kids lost their house as a result. For the last 2 months, they are basically homeless (now living temporarily with a friend and for a month with my mom). The oldest girl is in school but can’t get HISD to give her a ride to school (that may be resolved by January, I don’t know). (That’s why your other post about homeless children rang true to me). My mother and my brother’s siblings are now having to support his family while the wife looks for a job and tries to find more permanent housing. We are very gloomy about his chances of getting a job that pays as well as the one he had before the release.
My brother is borderline pathological, he lies sometimes and occasionally drinks too much (though no drugs anymore). But he’s been a law abiding citizen for the past 3 years and a good dad. His track record of following all the procedures of parole/probation/D.A. has been poor; it almost seems as though he is being imprisoned not for DWI or drugs but simply failure to pay his monthly fines or meet his parole officer. In theory it sounds reasonable to require that a person see his parole officer regularly, but he has always been busy driving kids to doctor’s appointments and school events (not to mention going to work). That doesn’t include the AA meetings he is usually required to attend (which eventually he stops doing ). Also, we all have strong feelings about the earlier decision to take deferred adjudication. Maybe it would be helpful for some people, but there are so many conditions attached that it entangles you permanently in the system. My brother just kept making minor infractions (not paying the monthly fine, skipping a meeting with the parole officer, not going to AA, etc). It was probably my brother’s worst decision to accept that; in retrospect, he should have just done the jail time and get it over with.
Off-topic: why can’t breathalizer ignition systems be mandatory on all cars? After the 2nd DWI they put a breathalizer on his car, and I thought that would be it. But Texas wanted to lock him up as well. I understand the need to prevent drunk people from getting in front of the wheel, but isn’t it enough to cripple the individual’s car until he takes a breathalizer test?
As my brother says, he knows what incarceration is about. He has been there before. He feels genuine remorse for the trouble he has caused. He is used to having to start over again after prison. But each career interruption lowers his income potential and disrupts the life of his wife and children. It ends up costing the state of Texas more money, and it has cost his family lots of money and heartache.
This is a nonviolent case which never needed to require prison. Even deferred adjudication can be a disaster if the terms are so onerous as to make messups inevitable. The problem with parole and probation is that usually you don’t have the right to contest the charge, and the panels can act arbitrarily and has full discretion. Once my brother signed up for D.A./parole/probation, he was completely at the mercy of the penal system whose solution for everything seems to be imprisonment.
Obviously, no one person’s case is representative of everyone, but the issues cited about how onerous probation can be are well known. Seeing it personalized like that was very compelling, and I thought it was a story that was worth sharing. I am very thankful to the reader who sent it to me and allowed me to publish it.