Interviewer: First of all, let’s review how does one get on probation, first of all?
Paul Tafelski: After you’re convicted of any misdemeanor or felony, the court decides what to do with you by way of sentencing. So every misdemeanor or felony you get convicted of, you will be sentenced. One of the options is to put you on a period of probation. For misdemeanors you can be on probation up to two years, and for felonies you can be on probation up to five years.
Both Misdemeanors and Felony Charges Can Entail a Sentence of Probation
So then, once you’re put on probation for a certain period of time, the judge also will set terms and conditions for how you have to behave while you’re on probation. Those terms and conditions can be anything the judge thinks is reasonably related to the underlying crime or your criminal history.
Probations Includes Conditions You Must Abide by for the Term of the Probation
So, for example, if you’re put on probation for drunk driving, they can and often do tell you that you cannot drink or use any drugs without a prescription while you’re on probation. They also can require you to undergo alcohol testing, drug testing, perform community service, take education classes, participate in counseling, do the work program, and go to Mothers against Drunk Driving seminars. Basically, anything they want you to do as long as it’s somewhat related to your crime.
In addition, they can do things such as require you to seek mental health treatment or to complete your GED if you haven’t finished high school, things that they think will help you and help prevent future crime.
That’s a general overview of what is probation.
Is Probation Ever Imposed as an Alternative to a Conviction?
Interviewer: When people are put on probation, it’s always after they’ve been convicted? Or is it sometimes just an alternative punishment instead of being convicted?
With Some Offenses, If Probation Is Successfully Completed, the Individual Will Not Have a Record of a Conviction
Paul Tafelski: In some cases, you may be given an opportunity to avoid having a conviction on your record if you successfully complete probation. For example, in Michigan, in domestic violence cases, there is a specific program for first offenders that allows you to avoid having a conviction on your record if you successfully complete probation.
Now in that type of circumstance, you do plead guilty and then you get sentenced to probation. But if you successfully complete the probation, then the conviction is dismissed by the court and you don’t have a conviction.
It could be something known as a delayed sentence; it could be a deferral under the Spousal Abuse Act; it could be a special program for first offenders. And with drug possession cases, it could be an Under Advisement status or a Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which is a special opportunity for people under 24 who have committed a crime.
So in those kinds of situations, people do plead guilty, but they have the opportunity to earn a later dismissal if they’re successful with probation. Otherwise, it is something that’s always imposed after you plead guilty.
Do the Penalties for Certain Offenses Always Entail Probation?
Interviewer: So you mentioned spousal abuse and DUI. What other kind of offenses carry probation with them, typically?
Paul Tafelski: They can be anything that is a misdemeanor or a felony. If you get a civil infraction for a speeding ticket or a stop sign ticket, they cannot put you on probation for that. That’s not a crime; it’s a civil infraction. But anything that’s a crime, even something as minor as expired tabs on your license plate could get you placed on probation in front of the wrong judge or somebody who doesn’t like the fact that you’ve got a bad record or some quirky situation.
What Are the Different Levels of Probation?
Interviewer: What are the different levels of probation?
Reporting and Non-Reporting Probation
Paul Tafelski: There’s reporting probation where you have to meet with the probation officer as often as directed, and they sit there face-to-face and review your case and check up on your status and make sure you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do. And then there is also non-reporting probation where they let you mail in a piece of paper once a month just verifying that you haven’t been in any new trouble and letting them know what conditions you’ve completed.
So other than that, the difference in probation is how long does it last. In misdemeanors they can be a maximum of two years. It could be six months; it could be 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, but not more than two years.
For Any Offense, the Goal in Defense Is Have the Least Amount and Least Restrictive Type of Probation Imposed
With a felony it could be any period of time up to five years. So it’s all up to the judge. It’s important for people to understand when they’re defending themselves in any case that part of your plan needs to be to get the least amount of probation possible. If probation is imposed, it should have the fewest number of restrictions and requirements for you to complete during probation. This is because all of those things make it easier for you to violate your probation and get put into jail.