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Probation: A Babysitter With Real Teeth

Posted on November 9, 2023 in

gavel-courtroom-flagWhat Probation Really Means

You know you are in trouble. You spent months worrying about the outcome of your criminal case. And now, you have finally received a plea offer that allows you to serve a term of probation as a condition of your sentence. Rarely does your attorney or the judge explain what that really means.

Misdemeanor Probation

When a misdemeanor case ends with a finding of guilty after trial or ends with a guilty plea, the Court must then consider an appropriate sentence. For any misdemeanor, the court can sentence one to incarceration in jail (up to 6 months), fines (up to $2,500 plus surcharges), counseling and any other term the court believes is an appropriate punishment.

The Court can then impose no probation, unsupervised probation, or a form of supervised probation. The sentencing documents and/or the plea agreement will specifically note the type of probation. Any term of probation must be written. Probation can run a maximum of up to 3 years (exceptions are DUI for up to 5 years, or lifetime probation if a sex offense or sexually motivated offense).

Please note that the punishment of incarceration, fines, counseling etc…. are terms of probation. If you violate any term of probation, you can be brought back before the court and resentenced for your failure to comply with probation terms. If resentenced, you can receive additional incarceration and other penalties.

In most misdemeanor courts, there is no supervised probation. Rather, you receive a term of unsupervised probation known as summary probation. Once you satisfy the terms of your probation, complete the incarceration, pay all fines, complete any counseling, you are removed from probation commitments.

However, if you were sentenced to a specific length of probation, you need to petition the court to terminate your probation when you satisfy the terms of your sentence.

Felony Probation

As with a misdemeanor conviction, once convicted of a felony, the Court has the option of imposing a prison term, or permitting you to serve your punishment under a term of probation. Many people believe that if you receive probation, you avoid incarceration. That is not true. If convicted of a felony, you could receive up to one year in jail. In addition, the maximum fines and surcharges can approach $250,000 plus any other term the court believes is appropriate.

There is no summary, felony probation. Although it is possible to receive unsupervised probation, Maricopa County actually has a supervising probation officer that oversees the unsupervised probationers. The vast majority of individuals receive some form of supervised probation. Depending on the felony, probation can run up to 7 years (an Aggravated DUI can run for 10 years and any sex offense or crime committed with sexual motivation can result in LIFETIME probation).

In most cases, my clients accept a plea bargain that requires a probation term. I take great care in describing how probation can really affect their lives. Normally, probation consists of serving your jail sentence, paying the required fines and fees, and usually completing some form of counseling. BUT ALL PROBATION HAS STANDARD TERMS THAT MUST ALSO BE SATISFIED. Standard terms can include submitting to a search of your person, residence or vehicle at any time, curfew, community service, NO alcohol or non-prescribed medicines, remaining employed or in school, limits on your travel and you can have contact with.

There are specialized probation sections that also have additional requirements. The specialized bureaus for domestic violence, sex offenders, seriously mentally ill, transferred youths, white collar, and gangs. If you receive any of these terms, the amount of supervision substantially jumps and the limits on your everyday ability to live your life will be under a microscope. Failure to comply with the simplest of terms can result in a petition to revoke your probation. And, if found in violation of ANY term, can result in your probation being revoked, and you being sent to prison.

The domestic violence terms can include mandatory and lengthy counseling and NO direct or indirect contact with the victim (that really causes problems with custody). You are also responsible for the costs of all the counseling.

The sex offender terms can limit your travel, curfew hours, computer usage, and preclude any contact with any minor…including your own children. The counseling and treatment costs are not only hefty, but they continue for years. The nature of the offense makes you unable to work jobs where children may be present. The computer usage limits can affect your employability and even the devices you can use.

White-collar terms literally give probation control to monitor all your assets.

I frequently represent those who violated probation by using alcohol or drugs, breaking curfew, failure to timely pay fines, missing counseling sessions, not reporting police contact (i.e. receiving a traffic ticket) or worst, committing a new crime.

PROBATION TERMS CAN BE NEGOTIATED AS PART OF YOUR PLEA PROCESS AND SENTENCING. Many attorneys either DON’T know this or don’t make the effort to seek limited terms. Most attorneys and their clients accept the terms with fully considering the consequences or understanding all term of their probation.

Howard Snader is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. If you or anyone you know has been accused of any felony or misdemeanor, please call him at (602) 825-3031, email him at [email protected] or visit his website at