A judge often has the authority to sentence a defendant to court-ordered community service. It help charitable organizations, lightens the load on jails and probation departments and give defendants a chance to give back. In this type of alternative sentence, a judge orders a criminal offender to perform work in 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. Non-violent offenders and people with little or no criminal history are typically selected as candidates for court ordered community service. It is not always available to all defendants and usually a judge is given plenty of discretion in whether to employ it or not.
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 Can a Judge Use Court Ordered 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.
Rules around accepted community service vary by jurisdiction. Each state has specific rules and procedures for court ordered community service, so be sure to check on the law in your area.
Other Considerations with Court-Ordered Community Service
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. Failing to pay restitution and/or comply with all of the court's orders could also lead to a finding of contempt.
Learn More About Court Ordered Community Service from an Attorney
Depending on the facts of your case, it may be possible for a judge to sentence you to community service. But remember, it is up to the discretion of the judge, so be respectful of the process. Reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney who can help make the argument for a sentence of community service by highlighting favorable evidence during plea bargain negotiations or trial.