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Court holds that monitoring service acted unconstitutionally

In an ironic twist, a company that monitors people facing allegations of violating probation is now facing allegations of unconstitutional behavior. This development may cause the company to refund hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars, to people for unnecessary penalties and damages.

Sentinel Offender Services has more than 40 branches nationwide, including one near DeKalb County. In a recent lawsuit filed against Sentinel, a Superior Court judge held that once someone is convicted of a misdemeanor and served their probation, monitoring of their actions must be discontinued and no fees could be collected for any monitoring done by a private service. The ruling also stated that state law prohibits monitoring of Georgia residents who are convicted of misdemeanor offenses.

Sentinel's legal representatives together with state court judges and the Richmond County sheriff asserted that they adhered to the law and should not be punished for performing their legal responsibilities. On the other hand, the Superior Court judge presiding over the case ruled that applying Sentinel's services in Richmond County violated the citizens' constitutional right of due process.

Sentinel's practice involved searching for non-bondable warrants for any person under probation who had allegedly violated court-imposed conditions. The company also got judges' orders to defer probation terms until each affected person was brought to court to face charges. According to the Superior Court, this deprives a person who is facing criminal charges from the opportunity to defend themselves in a timely manner. Also, the judge ruled that people who underwent this treatment are entitled to join the class action lawsuit.

This recent development vindicates DeKalb County residents who have paid penalties, been monitored or faced other serious but unnecessary consequences. Residents of DeKalb County or other Georgia counties should realize that even if they face charges or have been arrested in relation to alleged probation violations, they still have rights that should be respected.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle, "Sentinel Offender Services must repay people held on probation illegally," Sandy Hodson, Sept. 16, 2013

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