Many criminal defendants see probation as a Get Out of Jail Free card. And while this is correct in one sense – defendants sentenced to probation, quite literally, do not have to go to jail – probation does not mean that a defendant is free to do what they want to do.
In fact, if they miss any of their probation requirements, they can be sent to jail quickly for violating probation.
Probation Often Comes With Lots of Requirements
If you get convicted of a crime, especially a minor crime like simple assault or shoplifting, the judge might sentence you to probation rather than jail, especially if you don't have a criminal record.
That period of probation is not free time, though. The judge will often require you to:
- Not commit any other crimes or even get arrested
- Report regularly to a probation officer
- Stay away from drugs or alcohol
- Stay away from particular people, especially if you were convicted for an offense with other co-defendants
- Pay restitution to the victim
- Perform community service
Additionally, there will be offense-specific requirements as well, like:
- Drug counseling, if you were convicted of a drug crime
- Alcohol rehabilitation, if you were convicted for driving under the influence (DUI)
- Anger management, if you were convicted for a violent crime or domestic violence
Judges Demand Strict Compliance With These Requirements
These are extremely strict requirements. If you were sentenced to 50 hours of community service, performing 49 is not acceptable. It will almost never matter than you missed the last hour because of a family emergency or a car accident. Judges see probation as a lifeline that lets you stay out of jail, and demand that you take the terms extremely seriously. They tend to see any slip up as a deliberate affront to the criminal justice system.
Some Probation Requirements Are Not Easy to Complete
Unfortunately, not all of the requirements for completing probation are easy. While some, like community service or finishing an anger management course, are largely a matter of commitment, showing up on time, and doing what you are told, there are others that rely at least to some extent on other people.
For example, when defendants are sentenced to a period of probation that requires they pay restitution to the victim, low-income defendants will suddenly find that they could go to jail for a probation violation if they lose their job. Difficult bosses and manipulative coworkers can use that pressure to demand more of a worker, knowing that they will not be turned down.
Criminal Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia Joseph D. Lento
Being sentenced to probation is extremely important for people who want to stay out of jail or who have a family to provide for. Making it all the way through probation, though, is not an easy task.