SJR 102 to get hearing with voters

Amendment would preserve local control of probation services

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Voters next month decide the fate of an amendment to Idaho's Constitution that, if approved, would maintain local control of one feature of the criminal justice system.

The amendment, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 102, already passed the Idaho Legislature.

"This flew through the Senate and the House with almost no opposition," said Seth Grigg, a policy analyst with the Idaho Association of Counties.

He added, "It's simply a cleanup measure to make sure the Idaho code and Idaho Constitution are in line with each other."

The amendment clarifies that the state Board of Correction handles the supervision of adult felony probationers and parolees.

At the same time, the amendment leaves jurisdiction over adult misdemeanor probation services with counties.

Grigg said the association believes counties have done a competent and professional job of providing the services in misdemeanor cases.

The association's executive director, Daniel G. Chadwick, in a column written for newspapers statewide, said local control is key.

"Right now, Idaho's counties employ 108 well-trained, professional probation officers who use evidence-based best practices to supervise about 14,000 offenders who are on probation for misdemeanor crimes," Chadwick wrote.

If the amendment doesn't pass, counties will have to contract with the state for misdemeanor probation services or the state will have to provide them.

The amendment would insert the word "felony" before the word "probation" in Article X, Section 5 of the Constitution.

However small the change, it's important, attorneys say.

Coeur d'Alene defense attorney Michael Palmer said the way the Constitution currently reads is problematic.

Palmer said, "Our clients are being supervised by people who don't have the (constitutional) authority to do it."

County probation officers often need to do searches of misdemeanor offenders' homes, require them to submit to drug testing, and demand they show up at certain times and places.

The Constitution, however, needs to grant county probation officers the authority they already exercise every day, said Palmer, a former president of the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"If this (amendment) goes through, it will just be business as usual," Palmer said. "If it doesn't, it will raise some interesting questions."

Sara B. Thomas, Idaho state appellate public defender, first pushed for the amendment.

Thomas said the system is running well, and that was never the reason she raised concerns.

Like Palmer, she simply wants the Constitution to read the way the Idaho statute does and the way the probation services are actually provided.

"I haven't heard anyone who's opposed," she said. "It's just a clarification and preserves the status quo."

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