Alternatives to incarceration - probation and suspended sentences
Probation is a judicial act whereby a convicted a convicted criminal offender is released into the community under certain conditions and in lieu of incarceration. The purpose of probation is to rehabilitate the defendant. If you are granted probation, you will be required to complete a program of classes that are designed to address the behavior underlying the crime with which you were charged. You are generally expected to fulfill community service requirements as well.
You may get probation following your conviction or as a result of accepting a plea offer. In deciding whether to grant a convicted felon probation, a judge considers the following factors: the safety of the public; the nature of the offense; the interests of justice, including punishment and reintegration of the defendant into the community; the loss suffered by the victim as a result of the crime; and the needs of the defendant.
Supervised and Unsupervised Probations
In general, there are two forms of probation—supervised and unsupervised. Supervised probation is under the supervision of a probation officer. For this type of probation, you are required to adhere to the following "conditions":
Obey all laws (even petty laws like jaywalking have been known to land probationer back in jail)
Abide by all court orders
Report regularly to your probation officer
Report any chance of employment or address to your probation officer
Abstain from excessive use of alcohol or the use of any drugs
Refrain from travel outside of the jurisdiction without prior permission of your probation officer.
Avoid certain people and places (for example, an offender convicted of assaulting his ex-wife may, as a condition of his probation, be required to avoid any contact with his ex-wife or her family.)
If you have been placed on supervised probation, your probation officer may pay you announced or unannounced visits at your home or place of employment. You may also be subject to random searches and drug tests. Those placed on probation or parole have limited fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or low-level felony and have otherwise a clean or fairly clean criminal record, you may be placed on unsupervised probation. This form of probation does not involve direct supervision by an officer or probation department. The probationer is expected to complete all conditions of the probation order within a specified time period.
Probation can be violated in many ways, the most common of which are failure to pay the imposed fine or restitution, failure to comply with required programs, failure to appear for scheduled court appearances, failure to report to the probation officer, or commission of a new misdemeanor or felony. Occasionally, a glitch in the system or a clerical error leads to a probation violation, as when a certificate for a mandated probation program fails to reach the probation officer who then reports this failure as a probation violation.
The punishment imposed on a probation violation is often determined by the type and severity of the violation a well as the probationer's criminal history. For example, a convicted felon who is arrested on probation for use or possession of a firearm may be punished by revocation of probation followed by a jail or prison sentence. Other consequences of a violation of probation include additional fines, additional community service, and additional rehabilitation programs.
Another potential alternative to incarceration is a suspended sentence whereby a judge delays a convicted defendant's serving of a sentence. A judge can hand down, or a prosecutor can recommend as part of a plea bargain, a suspended sentence to a first time offender who has committed a minor crime.
There are two types of suspended sentences. A judge may unconditionally discharge a defendant of all penalties. This terminates the court's involvement in the case against the defendant. However, the defendant's criminal conviction becomes public record. A judge may also issue a conditionally suspended sentence to allow the defendant to perform a period of probation. If the defendant does not break the law during that period, and fulfills the particular conditions of probation, the judge may throw out the sentence. For example, if you have been convicted of simple battery for the first time, the judge may impose on you thirty days of incarceration and then suspend the imprisonment on the condition that you do not commit any crimes in the next year. If you complete that year without committing any crimes, the term of imprisonment is discharged. If, however, you do commit another offense, the judge is entitled to revoke the suspension and have you serve the original sentence of 30 days in jail.