Instead of sentencing a defendant to a prison term, a judge may choose to sentence them to probation. Although this releases the person back into the community, they don't have the same level of freedom as a normal citizen. Instead, there are a variety of conditions that restrict their behavior, and if they violate one of those conditions, the court may revoke or modify the probation. While judges set the conditions, probation officers enforce them by requiring random and scheduled check-ins with the person on probation.
When is Probation Ordered?
The primary goals of probation are to rehabilitate the defendant, protect society from further criminal conduct by the defendant and to protect the rights of the victim. Courts typically grant probation for first-time or low-risk offenders. Statutes determine when it's possible instead of jail time, but it's up to the sentencing judge to determine whether or not to actually grant it. Even though sentencing judges have this discretion, they must still stay within statutory limits. For example, a judge cannot impose probation for a period longer than the maximum sentence prescribed by statute.
Conditions of Probation
Judges set conditions in order to meet the goals for probation stated above, and if the person fails to comply with the conditions, the court may impose a prison sentence or add more restrictive conditions. Although judges have discretion in setting the conditions, they must be reasonable. This means that the conditions can't be vindictive, vague, overbroad, or arbitrary and must be related to the protection of the public. In addition, if a judge wishes to impose special conditions, those conditions must relate to the nature of the crime that was committed.
Since a person's freedom is at stake, there is a procedural due process before a court can revoke their probation. While the decision to revoke probation is at the court's discretion, the court must go through a few procedural requirements before revoking probation. The person facing revocation doesn't have as many rights during revocation proceedings as they do during the original criminal trial, however.
In order to revoke probation, a court must provide an individual with notice of the proposed revocation and conduct a hearing on the matter. The person has a right to testify at the hearing, present supporting witnesses, and confront the witnesses against them. They also have a right to a neutral hearing body and must receive a written statement containing the reasons for the revocation.
If there's sufficient evidence, a violation of even a single condition can result in the revocation of probation. The violated condition must be valid, however. If a condition is later found to be unreasonable then a violation of that condition won't constitute grounds for revocation.
Have Questions About Probation? An Attorney Can Help
Probation can apply to criminal matters ranging from low misdemeanors to the harshest felonies. No matter what criminal matter you're facing before you consider accepting a probationary sentence, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney, who can discuss your options and defend you in court.