SB 105: The Illusion of Probation Reform

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Georgia Senate Bill (“SB 105”) was signed into law by Governor Kemp, receiving much publicity for the Governor as probation reform. The Bill goes into effect on July 1, 2021. The Bill is said to simplify the process for early termination for people who have served at least three years on probation and have met other requirements. The question is, does this Bill actually help reform probation in Georgia, or is it anything more than a publicity stunt?

Before the Bill was passed, Georgia already allowed early termination of probation. Georgia statute § 42-8-37 says that after serving three years on probation, the supervising probation officer shall submit a progress report along with the officer’s recommendation for early termination. The probation officer also must file a petition to terminate the probation after three years if: (1) all restitution is paid; (2) there has been no probation revocations; and (3) the probationer has not been arrested for anything else. The statute says that the judge can then “take whatever action it determines would be for the best interest of justice and the welfare of society.”

The new Bill that allegedly reforms the probation statute only changes a few of the statute’s language – not anything substantive. SB 105 says that the probation officer shall submit an order to the judge to terminate probation early rather than submit a petition to terminate.

The only thing the new Bill “reforms” is the language changing petition to order. The procedure remains the same in that a document still has to be sent from the probation officer to the judge, and the judge still has discretion in signing the order or not after a hearing. The Bill has the same exact words with regard to the judge’s discretion: “The court shall take whatever action it determines would be for the best interest of justice and the welfare of society.”

While any bill to reform our criminal justice system is a move in the right direction, in order to make a difference, we need more real substance, and not just moving words around. In order to help the 191,000 people serving felony probation sentences in Georgia – more than any other state in the country – the discretion given to the court should be removed.

NEED LEGAL ADVICE?

If you believe that you are eligible for early termination of probation, or if you have any questions regarding SB105, the seasoned team at Arora Law Firm have the experience and skills to advise you on this issue. Contact us so we can help.

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