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Probation 101

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If you were in some sort of trouble within the Texas criminal justice system, you may have been placed on probation. You may have many questions, including “What is probation?” This article provides a summary of the basics of the probation sanction.

Have you been charged with a crime in Houston, TX? A skilled defense attorney can provide the best results possible. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky for the tough representation you need.

Probation is ordered by the Texas court system. You are placed on probation when you’ve been found guilty of the commission of a crime. Probation allows you to stay in the community when you’re supervised by a Texas probation officer. However, probation isn’t available for every criminal offense. Some defendants must serve a jail or prison sentence without the possibility of probation. It also depends on the deal that your attorney is able to negotiate on you behalf.

What is the Definition of Probation in Texas?

Practically speaking, probation means the offender’s jail sentence is suspended. Probation allows the convicted individual to remain in the familiar community rather than serving time in jail or prison. Probation conditions do vary between individuals and from case to case, and may include:

  • Jail time
  • Community Service
  • Fines
  • Counseling
  • Restitution
  • Restrictions concerning weapons
  • Restrictions concerning alcohol and drugs
  • Required reporting to a probation officer

Why Is it Necessary to Go to Jail if I Receive Probation?

Probation is offered in two basic types:

  1. The offender serves time in jail and then receives probation after completion of the jail sentence. The sentence may be decreased because the offender is placed on probation.
  2. The offender receives probation in lieu of jail time. If he or she successfully completes probation, he or she may skip jail time.

Some individuals dislike probation and prefer the idea of serving out a jail sentence. They don’t want the restrictions of parole. In some instances, probation lasts longer than a jail sentence and, in some cases, may be preferred by some offenders.

What’s the Difference Between Deferred Adjudication and Suspended Sentence in Texas?

In Texas, you may be subject to deferred adjudication or a suspended sentence.

A deferred adjudication may be available to a first-time offender and offers the defendant an opportunity to forgo the start of a criminal record. In this type of parole, the court defers its entrance of the conviction as long as the defendant successfully completes the parole period. At that time, the charge against the defendant is dismissed—though, in some cases, it may count as a conviction for specific purposes.

If the deferred adjudication is revoked, the defendant may be sentenced to any length of prison or jail term, regardless of the length determined in the deferred adjudication probation. Prosecutors may demand a 10-year sentence if the individual violates his or her deferred adjudication probation.

A suspended sentence, also known as straight probation, may be granted as an aspect of penalties imposed after the defendant stands trial and is convicted, or as part of his or her plea deal.

In a suspended sentence, the offender maintains a conviction on the record but may avoid serving jail time. In some cases, an incarceration period may be part of the probation plan. Straight probation may be revoked but, if it’s revoked, the judge can’t order an incarceration term that’s longer than the individual’s term of straight probation.

This difference is quite important because, if convicted of a first-degree felony in Texas, the offender faces maximum prison time of 99 years. An individual sentenced to a 10-year straight probation term can’t be sentenced to a longer period (greater than 10 years), but the individual who revoked a deferred adjudication probation could be required to serve 20 or more years as his or her prison sentence.

Because deferred adjudication is often seen as the preferred option in Texas, it’s important to recognize the severe consequences that a probation violation could entail. Texas looks as probation as a “second chance.” If the offender violates probation, the judge may sentence him or her to a much more severe sentence than if he or she was incarcerated after conviction.

How Long Does Probation Last?

It depends on the type of offense the individual committed. In Texas, probation typically lasts one to three years, but it may be longer depending on the reason for conviction. An individual who committed certain drug or sex offenses in Texas may have a longer probation period.

What if I Don’t Follow the Specific Rules of My Probation?

An individual’s probation may include specific conditions. He or she may be required to meet with a probation officer at specific times, appear at court for scheduled appearances, avoid specific people or places, not travel outside of Texas without the probation officer’s permission, obey the laws in Texas (including minor laws like jaywalking), and so on.

The court is likely to impose condition-specific restrictions relating to the type of offense the individual committed. For instance, if you were convicted of a drug-related offense, the court may require you to attend a drug rehab program or submit to regular drug testing. If you committed a gang-related offense, probation may require that you stay away from certain people or members of a group.

It’s very important to take your probation seriously. Probation is sometimes referred to as community supervision, because the goal of probation is to ensure public safety. If you disregard any point of your probation, then members of the community might not be as safe as possible.

A violation of your probation happens if you break any of the conditions or rules established in your probation order during the probation period. If a potential violation of probation is discovered, the probation officer may choose to warn you or demand that you stand at a probation violation hearing. If a judge believes you violated probation, it’s possible to face additional, new terms of probation, significant fines, revoked probation, a jail sentence, or more.

Don’t break the rules of your probation. If you do, it’s likely you must face the judge again. In some circumstances, you may be sent to jail or prison for violating probation.

What’s the Role of a Probation Officer in Texas?

A probation officer supervises and meets with an individual on probation. The probation officer’s responsibilities include:

  • Determining whether the individual on probation has met certain required needs
  • Determining whether the individual on probation poses a risk to others
  • Administering drug tests to ensure the individual hasn’t been using alcohol or drugs
  • Assisting the individual in accessing necessary services
  • Monitoring the individual to ensure that he or she continues to follow court orders
  • Overseeing his or her rehabilitation
  • Supporting and encouraging the individual to get his or her life back on track
  • Recommending specifics to the court that it will use in judgement of the individual
  • Visiting the offender at home during probation

Many times, a probation officer in Texas must manage other issues to help keep the offender on an even keel. It may be necessary to consider problems like sexual abuse, alcohol or drug abuse, mental illness, child abuse, or domestic violence.

What Happens at a Revocation Hearing?

If you must stand at a revocation hearing, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you violated a condition or term of probation using the preponderance of the evidence standard. You generally have the legal right to learn about a new charge made against you and to defend yourself by presenting evidence in court before an unbiased (neutral) judge that will either refute new evidence or support the case against you.

If your probation is revoked, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically go to jail. The judge has the option to require counseling or treatment programs, impose new fines, or add more time to your probation period. You may ask for a bail hearing to remain free before serving a jail sentence or before the judge renders a final determination. You can also appeal a conviction of a probation violation. If the higher court in Texas determines the court made or error or insufficient evidence was available to support your conviction, the probation violation may be dismissed.

Is There a Difference Between Parole and Probation?

Yes, although these sentencing options are alike in some ways, they are different. Parole is the conditional release from prison to allow the offender to serve a portion or all of a prison term in his or her community. In comparison, probation is an actual sentencing order that enables a convicted person to stay out of jail.

In both parole in probation, the person must follow specific court-mandated procedures. He or she must avoid getting into new legal trouble. A violation of either probation or parole occurs when the offender breaks the rules or doesn’t keep his or her terms of parole or probation. For instance, getting arrested while one is on probation or parole violates the terms of his or her release.

Probation or parole violations carry severe penalties and consequences. If a violation of probation or parole happens, the individual may be sent back to jail (if he or she is on parole) or sent to jail (if he or she is on probation).

Is It Possible to Lessen My Probation Time?

According to the Texas Government Code GOV’T § 508.1555, the individual’s parole office identifies individuals who are eligible for early release from supervision. Early termination may be an option for some individuals on probation. It’s contingent upon successful performance of probation. That is, if you completed community service hours assigned, paid fines, and finished all the court-ordered requirements, you may be eligible for early discharge.

What Does Probation Cost?

It may surprise you to know that probation costs the convicted offender money. According to The Harris County Community Supervision and Correction Department, the probation department for Harris County, TX, the amount each offender pays on probation differs. It does not provide a fee schedule to the public.

However, the offender on probation must typically pay a certain amount each month. In addition, he or she may be asked to pay a monthly fee to offset costs of a public defender.

It’s important for the defendant and his or her loved ones to realize that the public defender isn’t free in a criminal court hearing. Public defenders often manage hundreds of cases at the same time. If convicted, the defendant will be asked to repay the state for this resource.

The question that follows concerns your future. Why not retain an experienced, Texas board-certified criminal attorney at the start?

Offenders do have the ability to hold a job and support a family during a probation term, but many can’t find or hold a job. Each defendant must fill out a financial affidavit. In this case, the defendant’s parent’s income does not count.

Contact an Experienced, Aggressive Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston, TX

Probation matters are complex. If you’re facing any of these issues, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney. Brett A. Podolsky is a certified criminal defense attorney by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule a free initial case evaluation.

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