What does it mean when someone is put on probation? Many times you’ll hear a defendant is put on probation after either a guilty plea or as part of a sentence following a guilty verdict. First of all, probation is a conditional sentence. When someone is judged to be guilty as a result of a plea or guilty verdict the judge can sentence the defendant to the maximum penalty under the law. If that happens there isn’t any more punishment to be had and there isn’t any probation. But, a conditional sentence means that the judge is giving a sentence less than the maximum and in consideration of that the defendant is told he is on probation to the court, usually on certain conditions.
The conditions of probation can be whatever the judge orders someone to do as a result of the conviction. For example, the judge can order the defendant to serve 30 days of community service as a condition of probation. If the defendant doesn’t do the community service the judge can find a violation of probation and impose some or all of the rest of the maximum sentence. It works something like reward and punishment. If you do what you are ordered to do the reward is no more jail time or fines or whatever else the judge might do if you don’t follow through. Punishment comes into play when the defendant fails to live up to his promise to the judge that he would abide by the conditions of his probation. That punishment can be up to whatever the maximum is for whatever crime the defendant was convicted of when he plead or was found guilty.
When a defendant is sentenced to probation, either formal (with a probation officer ) or informal (without) the defendant is asked: “Do you accept the conditions of probation as I have stated them?” If the defendant says yes, he has a contract with the court to accomplish whatever it is the judge has set out for him to do.
If you fail to do what the judge asked of you then there can be a probation violation hearing. The judge decides if you violated your probation. There isn’t a right to a jury trial with a probation violation. The standard of proof is lower than for someone who has not been convicted as well. That way the judge can find you in violation even though it isn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Law Offices of Rudolph Loewenstein often represents defendants in probation violation hearings. Our assistance often results in a lessening of the judge’s view of the penalty to be imposed or convinces the judge that no violation actually occurred. It is important to remember that once you are on probation you are at the mercy of the court if you don’t fulfill your promise to conform to the conditions of your probation as the judge set them out.