By MELINDA WILLIAMS
A judge didn’t buy a probationer’s claim he would have thought harder before violating probation in another jurisdiction had he known he was still subject to revocation of another sentence in Pulaski County.
Robert Matthew Plogger, 38, of Rockbridge County, still had 16 years, three months remaining on a 20-year sentence from 2008 when he violated probation by being convicted in other jurisdictions of separate charges involving opiates and methamphetamine.
Although his convictions also resulted in probation violations in Rockbridge County and Radford City, Plogger said it might have made a difference knowing he was subject to revocation of almost 20 years instead of just two years had he known he was still under probation here.
Defense attorney Bev Davis argued that his client shouldn’t be subject to revocation in Pulaski County Circuit Court because of an erroneous email from the probation and parole department for the 28th circuit, which includes Pulaski County. Davis said the email sent to Plogger’s Rockbridge probation officer after he was released from prison in May 2012 indicated Plogger didn’t have any probation obligations to the 28th circuit.
Since the error was discovered after Plogger had already received the new charges, Davis argued there was no way for his client to know he was still subject to serving the suspended sentence in Pulaski County.
However, Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. disagreed. He said Plogger signed a plea agreement in this county in 2008 that clearly stated he would be placed on probation for five years upon release from prison unless he was “released” from probation by the court or his probation officer.
Plogger agreed with the judge that the email does not say Plogger has been “released” from probation. Plogger said he was just relying on what his probation officer told him. “Mr. Plogger didn’t go to law school,” Davis told Long.
Davis contended a probationer should be informed of what is expected of him, noting that Plogger didn’t sign the local conditions of probation until after he had already violated the terms.
A local probation officer testified Friday that the terms in Pulaski County are the same as other jurisdictions.
“I do believe (the probation error) should have an effect on what happens here,” Davis said. “The mistake was no mistake of his. He relied upon it to his detriment.”
Plogger testified that he thought all of his probation was combined in Rockbridge County. He said all of his crimes had been “little things” and he had never been in trouble in multiple jurisdictions until the point he was charged in Pulaski County and Radford City.
Plogger was convicted locally in 2008 of breaking and entering, grand larceny and receiving stolen goods.
He attributed his drug convictions to having been prescribed opiates for a serious thumb injury received at work. “That’s when everything spiraled downhill. I wasn’t able to work. … Before I knew what was going on (the prescribed drugs) led to the use of methamphetamine.”
Plogger told the judge he realizes that’s not a good excuse, but he has had a drug problem for years and should have sought treatment in the past. Although he took part in a drug treatment program in jail, he said he realizes he still needs more.
“I know I messed up,” he said. “I learned a lot while I was in prison. Obviously I didn’t learn enough or I wouldn’t be back in here.”
He told the judge that he realizes it’s not a good excuse that he didn’t realize he was still on probation in this county. He asked for leniency so he could get out of custody and “be productive and get out of this lifestyle.”
Judge Long called the case “a little bit novel” in that Plogger wants to take some things literally and others lightly. He called the defense that Plogger would have thought harder facing 20 years rather than two years “bordering on incredible.”
Long added, “There’s no doubt in my mind he was on probation and he violated the terms.
“If I wanted to take (the 2008 court order) literally, I’d give you the 16 years and three months,” Long continued, warning Plogger he still might do so. “If you want this to be taken literally, I’ll revoke it all. I’m seriously considering doing so because” Plogger’s testimony wasn’t credible.
Ultimately, the judge ordered Plogger to serve eight years of the sentence. The remainder was suspended and Plogger will be placed on indefinite probation upon release from prison. He also was ordered to complete a substance abuse program while in prison, if he is deemed to be eligible.
“You might not be here today if you had” undergone treatment in the past, Long told the defendant.