Dallas County prosecutors use probation as a “back door to prison” on murder cases more often than anyone else in Texas, says the Dallas Morning News in the third part of a series. Local judges have a very different philosophy about probation – one that means killers’ second chances can go on and on and on. An analysis by the News found that murderers serving probation get little more attention than lesser felons. They can even go missing for months before anyone takes action. Probation officers know that judges typically won’t act until a pattern emerges. When officers detect initial violations, they often do little more than nag the killers. The judge isn’t necessarily notified unless there’s a new criminal charge.
If judges do get involved, there are no guidelines to help them make decisions. Punishment could be extreme, but it’s usually minor. This has created an atmosphere that emboldens offenders and exasperates rank-and-file probation officers who supervise them. “There’s a group of dangerous and habitual violators we’re treating like everybody else,” said veteran officer Kurt Kuehl, who founded PO’s for Public Safety. It backed a successful slate of judicial candidates who pledged to limit probation deals for violent felons. Most judges interviewed – past and present, Republican and Democrat – reject the idea that murderers on probation should be treated any differently from other offenders. They think prosecutors are trying to manipulate the system instead of taking the cases before a jury. Judges would lose their impartiality if they let prosecutors get away with that, said Mark Nancarrow, who spent a decade on the bench.