In this type of alternative sentence, a judge orders a criminal offender to perform work on behalf of the community in exchange for a complete or partial reduction of fines and/or incarceration. Court ordered community service often accompanies some other form of alternative sentence such as suspended sentences, probation, fines, deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion.
The theory behind court ordered community service is that mandating minor offenders to perform community service offers more benefit to society than incarceration of those offenders. The community benefits from the work that the offender performs and avoids the cost of incarceration while the offender benefits from a lesser sentence and, it is hoped, is rehabilitated, educated and enriched through the work they perform.
When Do Courts Order Community Service?
Court ordered community service is often, but not always, related to the type of offense that they were charged with. For example, a person convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) may have to give speeches to schoolchildren about the dangers of drunk driving.
A judge may sometimes allow an offender to choose the type of community service they wish to do. If this is the case, a government or independent agency must verify that the offender completed the community service. Otherwise, a judge will order a specific type of service that is verified through the organization where the offender performs the work.
Each state has specific rules and procedures for court ordered community service, so be sure to check on the law in your area.
A sentence of community service may seem like you've dodged the bullet, but it's important to understand the consequences for failing to fully perform the court's required service. Don't let a judge's demeanor or the fact that you received a lighter sentence fool you. Failure to meet the sentencing requirements could lead to imposition of the harsher sentence such as prison or even a finding of criminal contempt of court. If you're found guilty of criminal contempt, this can become a separate charge from your underlying case and can therefore put in place additional punishments beyond those you're facing in your underlying case.
There are also other considerations. For example, in addition to court-ordered community service, a judge may require a defendant to make restitution payments to victims to compensate for their losses, meaning that you could be paying regular restitution payments out of pocket for the foreseeable future. The failure to do so and comply with all of the court's orders could also lead to a finding of contempt.
Learn More About Sentencing with a Free Legal Evaluation
Depending on the facts of your case, it may be possible to obtain a sentence of community service. A skilled defense attorney can help make that case for you by highlighting favorable evidence throughout the process. To be successful, you'll want to start making this argument early, especially during any plea bargain negotiations. Get off on the right foot with an attorney who's familiar with your court and perhaps even the judge in your case. You can reach one today and receive a free legal review of your case.