KPRC reviewed thousands of felony cases where a probationer was “unsatisfactorily” terminated from their probation. The term is a point of debate between victim’s rights advocates and Harris County judges seeking to strike a balance between justice and punishment.
According to data obtained from the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, there have been 7,133 cases of “unsatisfactory” termination of probation cases filed over the last 10 years in felony courts. The number of these cases can vary widely from court-to-court and year-to-year.
Veteran defense attorney and former prosecutor Murray Newman explains a so-called “unsat” typically happens when a person largely complies with the conditions of their probation, but still does not meet all requirements.
“Prison is not the appropriate remedy and letting someone go unscathed with nothing on their record is also not an appropriate remedy,” said Newman.
While a person is still released from the burden of probation, that designation can potentially prevent someone from receiving probation again if charged with a new crime. Victims' rights advocates argue it still sends the wrong message.
“The way I would phrase it, is you’re rewarded for being a failure,” said Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston.
Kahan points to cases like last May’s fatal crash involving Jose Talamantes. The 62-year-old is accused of driving drunk and crashing into Abdimalik Maigag’s, 29, car and killing him. Court records show Talamantes had two prior DWI cases on his record and the most recent one ended with “unsatisfactory” termination of probation. Talamantes is now charged with murder and failure to stop and render aid.
“What we really want out of our probationers is to give them the tools to operate within our society without committing future crimes,” said Judge Chris Morton.
Judges are largely prohibited from discussing specific reasons behind why a decision is made in a particular case. However, Morton said many “unsats” stem from a probationer’s inability to pay court ordered fees or restitution.
“If they fail due to financial reasons that’s not necessarily something that’s their fault,” Morton.
Morton also said COVID-19 has made completing requirements such as community service more difficult.
“Social distancing and other factors of shutting down facilities where they would normally go in and do community service, they’re not able to make those hours,” said Morton.
KPRC is still speaking with victims involved in “unsat” cases to hear their impact and compiling which courts have seen the greatest number of these cases. We will have those details when our complete story airs on Friday.