Probation: Gift or Curse?

Updated: Aug 16

It as always been my belief that anything is better than jail time. However, many clients opt for brief jail sentences over probation due to the restrictions and oppressive court oversight the option entails, not to mention the expense. Probation can be anywhere from 6 months to five years. If the court imposes drug and alcohol testing, monthly oversight fees and/or restitution, probation can be extremely expensive. If a client opts for a short jail sentence, it averts these fees and restrictions.

Probation sentences are possible for both felonies and misdemeanors. For felonies, the maximum probation period is five years and two years for misdemeanors. Most convictions are eligible for probation except murder, treason, armed robbery, criminal sexual conduct, certain drug offenses, and felony firearm convictions. Probation may be reporting or non-reporting. With reporting probation, one must check-in regularly with his/her probation officer to ensure compliance with the court’s probation conditions. Any non-compliance may be reported to the court and a probation violation hearing may be held. Non-compliance is up to the discretion of the probation officer and put’s the convicted’s freedom at risk. If one is found to be in violation of probation, the judge may extend the probation period, impose added conditions, and/or revoke probation and impose jail time.

Rehabilitation and deterrence are essential elements the court considers during sentencing. Probation often involves counseling/treatment, testing and community service. But there may also be stipulations that the accused cannot associate with known felons, must abide by tether/curfew, abstain from alcohol, obtain or continue employment, and/or prohibit the ownership or use of a firearm. Probation places very serious constraints on one’s freedom. Committing any new offense, even something as minor a traffic violation could potentially lead to revocation of probation. Tardiness or a missed counseling, testing, or meetings with the probation department can have the same consequence.

I always advise clients to take rehabilitative steps as soon as possible after being charged. Whether it be mental health, drug or parenting counseling, it is important that the court see proactive efforts before a sentence is imposed. Keep in mind that sometimes jail sentences after a probation violation can be worse because the court may punish you for not availing yourself of the leniency of probation. Be careful!


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