Probation is a Sentencing Alternative to Jail Time

Everyone has heard the term “probation,” but does everyone really know what it means? Is it the same for everyone?

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Probation is an alternative to a jail sentence in felony and misdemeanor cases.

Probation is court supervision of anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. A conviction can be by plea or after a trial. Misdemeanors can be state law misdemeanors, ordinance violations, and even traffic misdemeanors. Under probation, the sentencing judge has control over some areas of the convicted person’s life and what they can do, can’t do, and must do for a period of time. Probation is not considered to be a “right,” and a person found guilty of a crime has no choice about whether they will be under the control of either the court through the court’s probation department or, alternatively, jail or prison. For obvious reasons, people convicted of a crime hope their lawyer is influential enough to convince the judge to order a term of probation because the alternative is usually jail.

Of course, some people find the idea of being told what to do repugnant, and virtually all lawyers have been asked by a client, “If I take the plea being offered, will I have to be on probation?” It is possible in some cases for the sentence to be fines and costs only, without probation; however, this is exceptionally rare.

There are many reasons for probation. Generally, courts use a term of probation to help a client deal with life problems, like substance abuse issues or mental health concerns or provide some other form of rehabilitation. In other cases, probation is used as a punishment but, at the same time, as an alternative to jail. These clients fail to appreciate the fact that the court wants to ensure the client will not re-offend, and the public will be protected. Therefore, the court will prohibit alcohol and unprescribed drugs in virtually all cases, even those having nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.

What are the Typical Terms of Probation?

As stated above, in virtually all probationary sentences, no alcohol or unprescribed drugs are permitted to be used. Over 60% of all criminal cases involve alcohol or drugs in some way. Probation invariably involves mandatory abstinence. Failing drug or alcohol tests or failing to submit to them as ordered can result in a jail term and perhaps an extended probationary term.

Probationers not only have to submit to the control of the probation department, they have to pay for it. So-called supervision costs are the costs of testing, reporting, meeting with a probation agent, and perhaps taking certain classes. Sometimes a court will allow a probation term to be “non-reporting.” Typically, cases with nonreporting probation are relatively minor, with no obvious connection to alcohol or drugs.

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Depending on the case, terms of probation sometimes include:

  • community service,
  • fines and costs,
  • organized court workforce,
  • writing essays,
  • not going into bars,
  • mental health therapy,
  • court-ordered classes,
  • tether (alcohol or GPS),
  • no contact with victims,
  • no assaultive or aggressive behavior,
  • truthful reporting to probation,
  • no driving,
  • staying in the state of Michigan unless permission is granted to leave,
  • no new criminal charges,
  • complete a high school degree,
  • and obtain or maintain employment.
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How Long Does a Term of Probation Last?

The length of a probationary term varies based upon the crime, the history of the defendant, and the abilities of the defense attorney. Usually, felony probation is up to five years. It is often shorter but depends on the circumstances and if the judge can be convinced to order a shorter term. A top-rated, reputable defense attorney can sometimes influence a judge to impose a much shorter term. Sentencing allocution is an art, and only the most exceptional lawyers routinely achieve exceptional outcomes for clients. Success at sentencing requires a thorough understanding of the defendant, the judge, and the prosecutor. All aspects of a court’s operations must be expertly orchestrated in harmony to shorten a standard term and reduce the obligations on the defendant. When the judge asks, “Why should I give your client a break on the length of probation?” Your attorney had better have a great answer. The best lawyers always do.

With misdemeanor convictions, the term of probation is routinely one year, although it may be as high as two years. An astute lawyer will know the arguments that can be made to potentially reduce that time to six months or even less, depending on the circumstances of the client and the case. No lawyer can guarantee any specific sentence, although a top lawyer gives the client the best chance of getting lenient terms of probation.

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The Best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Michigan for a Probationary Sentence

The dedicated, experienced and zealous defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties and throughout Southeastern Michigan. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation, while showing empathy and care for each client.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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