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Sentences - Fines, Jail and Probation

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Notice: Please note that if you have been charged with a criminal offense, you will likely benefit from consulting a criminal defense lawyer. You may find this article on "How To Hire A Criminal Defense Lawyer" to be helpful.

What Is A "Delayed Sentence"?

Sometimes, a defendant will be eligible for a "delayed sentence," meaning that if the defendant successfully completes probation, the criminal conviction will not be placed on his record. This is most often available for younger offenders, and for people facing their first conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Your attorney will be able to advise you if you are eligible for a delayed disposition.

What Are The Possible Sentences For A Criminal Offense?

After sentencing, a defendant may simply be ordered to pay fines and costs, and be released. A defendant may also be ordered to participate in community service, or to spend time on a work crew. A defendant may be placed on probation, and may even be placed on "house arrest," while wearing a "tether," an electronic monitoring device. A defendant may also be sentenced to jail or prison. Courts can combine these various options, in fashioning a sentence for a defendant.

What Happens If I Am Placed On "Probation"?

A defendant may also be placed on probation. A defendant on probation will ordinarily meet with his probation officer monthly, and at times more frequently. Sometimes, a defendant will be placed on "non-reporting" probation, where he does not meet with a probation officer.

Typically, at the end of his probation, such a defendant will be asked to demonstrate that he complied with the terms of probation (such as by submitting attendance records from court-ordered Alcoholics Anonymous meetings), and his record will be checked for any further criminal activity. Sometimes, a defendant will be allowed to report by mail. This usually happens in cases where a defendant has been on probation without any problems for a long time, but his probation officer still wants periodic information on his activities.

A defendant who has been convicted of a drug conviction may have to report to the probation office frequently for drug testing. A court may also order drug or alcohol counseling, or attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcaholics Anonymous meetings. During probation, a probationer must typically seek permission from his probation officer before moving or changing jobs. He may be restricted from leaving the state without his probation officer's permission.

How Long Does Probation Last?

Probation usually lasts between one and three years, but can last longer depending upon the offense committed and state policies. Some states have "life probation" for certain drug offenses, where a person is placed on probation indefinitely. After a probationer has paid off his fines and other court assessments, and has completed other requirements of his probation (such as community service), a probation officer will sometimes consider an early discharge from probation. However, most probationers complete their entire terms of probation. Many, upon violating the terms of their probation, are in fact ordered to report to probation more frequently. If violations are of a serious or repeated nature, a probationer can be charged with violating his probation, and be ordered to appear before a judge for a hearing.

What Is A "Tether," or "Electronic Monitoring"?

Tethers are increasingly sophisticated devices. A typical tether has a portable unit which is strapped to the probationer's leg, and a "base unit" which is connected to the probationer's telephone line. The portable unit sends a constant signal to the base unit. The base unit keeps a record of when that signal is interrupted, and transmits that information by telephone to the probation office. The probationer on "house arrest" is placed on a strict schedule, and must account for any absences from his home that are not pre-approved by his probation officer. If a probationer is not home at the times he is supposed to be, the probation officer may contact the probationer to inquire why he was not at home, or may contact the police and have the probationer arrested.

What Happens If I "Violate" My Probation?

A probation officer has the discretion to give a probationer a warning, or to make him appear before a court for a "probation violation" hearing. If you go to a hearing, the probation officer will typically ask that you face additional punishment, usually involving incarceration. There is no "hard and fast" rule for what type of probation violation will result in a probation violation hearing . One violation that is almost always considered serious is failing to appear for scheduled meetings with the probation officer. Being caught in possession of illegal drugs, or being arrested for another crime, will also typically result in a hearing before a judge. At times, the seriousness of the violation may depend upon the facts of the underlying offense -- for example, if a person is convicted of being involved in a gang-related offense, the violation of probation through "association with known criminals" may be viewed more seriously than if the person is on probation for driving a car while his driver's license was suspended.

What Are My Rights At A "Probation Violation" Hearing?

It is important to note that probation violations are typically tried under a "preponderance of the evidence" standard, where the prosecutor must show only that it is more likely than not that the probationer violated the terms of his probation. There have been many cases where a person's probation was violated for engaging in new criminal activity, despite the fact that he was acquitted of the new charge, or was in fact never charged with a new offense.

What Happens If I Am Convicted Of A Probation Violation?

If a person is convicted of a probation violation, sometimes the court will extend his probation, or impose additional terms. Often, the court will sentence the probationer to a period of time in jail, followed by the continuation of his probation. Sometimes, the probationer will be resentenced to jail or prison, or will be ordered to complete a term that was previously "suspended."

When Are Defendants Sentenced To Jail?

If the court feels that a more serious punishment is required than a term of probation, the offender may be sentenced to jail. "Jails" are typically run by County governments, and are used to house defendants prior to trial, and to punish people who have been convicted of less serious crimes. Although the exact terms vary from state to state, typically the maximum jail sentence is one year. At times, the offender will simply be sentenced to jail, while more typically the defendant will have to serve a term of probation after completing his jail sentence.

What If The Judge Thinks That Jail Is Not Enough?

If the defendant's offenses are more serious, most states have a "boot camp" programs, which are intense, military-style facilities. Incarceration typically lasts about ninety days. Participants may be cautioned that if they drop out of the program, or are kicked out, they will be sent to prison. Some states reserve these programs for young offenders. As these programs can be physically strenuous, some people cannot participate in "boot camp" programs due to health conditions.

If all else fails, the defendant will be sentenced to prison.