State lawmakers are expected to revisit the handling of misdemeanor probation cases after the Georgia Supreme Court ruling late last year that banned the practice of tolling.
"I feel strongly there will be legislation come out this session," said State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. "The governor asked the Criminal Justice Reform Council to take a look at this issue. So I think we'll address that in the upcoming session."
Until last month, tolling orders could be issued that would halt misdemeanor probation until the absconded probationer was located, at which time the sentence length would be reinstated.
"So, basically, if someone goes out of state and you can't find them and they have six months left on probation, with a tolling order, when they're found, they still have six months on probation even it takes you a year to find them," Tanner said.
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said the ruling is a blow to the entire state's criminal justice system, and one that he suspects will be addressed later this month when the Georgia Sheriff's Association meets for its annual winter conference.
"This ruling could have a big impact on our justice system, because someone could be placed on misdemeanor probation and then simply go into hiding for a year or leave the state," he said. "They would never have to spend one day on probation due to the courts not being able to toll their probation warrant."
Carlisle's suggestion is to take a look at restructuring the state's handling of misdemeanor probation.
"I think it is time to do a complete overhaul of our misdemeanor probation system in the state of Georgia," he said. "I think our misdemeanor probation system in the state of Georgia needs to be overhauled due to the fact, in my opinion, it isn't working very good right now."
While Tanner said he anticipated the ruling, he believes there is a bigger issue that the high court did not address.
"What I'm concerned about are the victims in these cases," he said. "If someone steals your lawnmower and you don't find it but the police catch the person and charge them with stealing your lawnmower, then they are ordered to pay back you back the cost of your lawnmower."
Since fines, fees and retributions are collected for misdemeanor offense through probation companies, if they stop reporting, then the victims are not repaid.
"That's unfair to the victim," Tanner said. "I think there has to be a mechanism in place to toll the orders."
Locally, the ruling affected 28 misdemeanor probation violation warrants, where tolling orders had been issued. There was, however, no one incarcerated that had to be released due to the high court judgment.
"We had to return 28 warrants that would be expired because they would no longer be valid," said Maj. Brandy Branson, commander of Carlisle's court services division.
Felony probation warrants were not affected by the court's decision.
"They're all misdemeanors, so it could have been anything from shoplifting to DUI, all minor offenses," Branson said.