You’ve been arrested, charged, and just pleaded guilty. For some, the road ends there. But for many others, a probation sentence is just beginning. Probation, or “community supervision,” is defined under Chapter 42A of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In a nutshell, probation is a substitute for jail time, effectively “suspending” your jail sentence. Instead of spending your days locked up, probation allows you to remain in the community while being supervised by a probation officer.
While probation may seem like a great option, it is important to remember that there are a slew of conditions that you must follow. Otherwise, you could wind up in jail. If you are on probation, or are thinking about taking a probation plea, keep these things in mind:
DO Read the Fine Print
Before you rush into any plea agreement, probation or not, understand what you are signing up for. Prior to pleading guilty in front of the judge, your attorney will go through all of the terms and conditions that you must abide by during your probation sentence. These conditions might look like:
- Refrain from using drugs and alcohol;
- Curfew from 10 pm to 7 am;
- Commit no new crimes;
- Complete drug awareness class (or any other class relevant to offense).
Additionally, you will be required to check in with your probation officer (P.O.) at least once a month, submit to random drug tests, and complete community service hours.
If you do not understand what you must do while on probation, be sure to speak to your attorney so he or she can fully answer your questions.
DO Communicate with Your Probation Officer
Checking in with your probation officer can feel like a chore. But don’t let this be a chore that you completely avoid. If something has come up, and you can’t make a check-in, call your P.O. and let them know. Don’t have a phone? Send them an email. In this age of technology, there is rarely ever an excuse for failing to communicate.
It is imperative that you stay in touch with your P.O. If you are going out of town for a few days, let them know. If you cannot take time away from work, let them know. Even if you’ve missed a few monthly check-ins, it is less likely you will be revoked if you have been actively communicating.
DO Ask for Help
Contrary to what some may say, your P.O. does not want to see you fail. In fact, probation officers are there to help you. But, they cannot help if you do not ask.
If you’ve been struggling to manage work, school, family, etc., it may be difficult to attend classes, pay fines, or check-in. Instead of completely ignoring your conditions, divulge your struggles to your P.O. Be honest that you haven’t had the wherewithal to complete your terms of probation. Most P.O.s are understanding and will give you an extension of time or modify your requirements all together. Additionally, your probation officer may point you in the direction of various resources to help you cope (i.e., counseling, debt management, child care).
DON’T Commit New Crimes
The surest way to get your probation revoked is by picking up a new offense. This generally does not apply to minor traffic infractions; but if you’re popped for an open container or public intoxication, chances are your probation officer won’t be too happy.
Judges do not look too kindly upon those that have been placed on probation and then pick up new offenses. And why would they? If you’ve been given the chance to stay out of jail, and you commit new crimes, it is clear you aren’t taking your probation seriously.
DON’T Agree to Something You Cannot Do
Probation is not for everyone. And while it may seem better than the alternative, which is jail, you could end up there regardless.
If you are not living up to the terms and conditions of your probation, the prosecutor can file a Motion to Revoke with the court. This is a motion that sets forth all of the violations that you’ve incurred while on probation, and asks the court to revoke your probation and institute a jail sentence. The motion to revoke (MTR) is a separate case in which you must either hire an attorney or have one appointed. While these cases are often resolved through plea agreements, the cases can go to a hearing where the judge will decide the appropriate punishment.
More often than not, MTRs result in a term of jail. It is possible that your probation could be reinstated and/or extended, but if your violations are significant, that is unlikely.
What this means is that before accepting a probation sentence, be honest with yourself. Can you adhere to a curfew? Can you abstain from drugs and alcohol? Can you complete classes and community service? If the answers to these questions are no, that is perfectly acceptable. However, it is important to speak to your attorney about this so that they work on alternative solutions.