We often hear the defendant was called to court and later placed on probation. In legal terms probation involves the immediate release of the accused from police custody on the condition or understanding that the accused maintains good behavior and crime free passage for a specific period under supervision of a probation officer.
Even freedom sometimes comes with a price tag as in the case of adult probation. The individual may be released but only on satisfying laid down conditions, and any violation of conditions means imposition of the suspended jail term. The terms and conditions of probation show large variation from region to region and the type of court we are dealing with. In some jurisdictions judges control the conditions, while in other counties a probation officer determines the conditions.
Conditions, many of which are mandatory, are enforced in federal probation. Staying away from any sign of criminal activity is a standard condition. Being in unlawful possession of a banned substance is another big no. The condition may be imposed that makes periodical or routine drug testing mandatory. In cases where domestic violence is charged the accused might be ordered to undergo pre-approved rehabilitation programs that are accessible to the accused. This will be in addition to restitution and fines that are mandated by the court. In case the financial circumstances of the defendant are not strong enough to pay mandated fines, the fact must be brought to the knowledge of the court through the defense counsel. Those accused of sexual violence are registered under the sex offender registry and DNA testing might also be mandated.
Just as in the federal criminal proceedings, a state jurisdiction would also be amenable to laying down various conditions for probation. It could be mandated that the accused undergoes periodical drug testing and attend group therapy sessions to give, take and assess feedback to understand the root causes that aggravate antisocial behavior and learn from people that faced similar issues and overcame the worst odds. The court may also insist on proof that the accused is suitably employed and away from bad influences and criminal activity. Community service may also become an integral part of state probations.
The court generally ensures compliance of the court’s probation procedures by entrusting the probation officer to conduct personal follow up of the activities of the accused. This may include searching the home and monitoring the presence of the accused to check compliance with strictures not to leave the state or nation. Checks will also monitor drug and alcohol usage and its myriad symptoms.
Accusations of domestic violence may result in the accused being served a restraining order as part of his probation. In the same breath the accused may be required to attend sessions designed specifically for anger management or classes about domestic violence, besides classes for sensitization to sex abuse and its consequences. The court may also mandate, for DUI offenders, the ignition interlock device or its more modern avatar the breath alcohol ignition interlock device. The purpose of the device is to function as a live breathalyzer, installed in the vehicle’s dashboard, operationally signaling whether or not it is OK for the accused to drive the vehicle. Additionally, there are sex offender treatment and rehabilitation programs which are mandatory for first time offenses and repeat offenders.
The listed and mandatory conditions apart, both federal and state judges are allowed the leeway to impose additional requirements within their overall discretion. Federal judges may consider extra conditions that are “reliably related” to the crime. Other conditions might include:
The accused would be expected to be truthful in responding to the probation officer’s queries and be punctual and regular in attending and finishing the classes that are mandated by the court.
States jurisdictions also impose conditions that may infringe the privacy of the accused like being confined to one’s home or community locale till rehabilitation program is completed. He or she may also have to consent for search of their person, their computers and homes. The severity of the conditions would vary according to the risk perception of the judge and how serious a threat the accused’s release poses to the community, to organizations and to individuals. Unless the accused is a regular worker or student, sometimes weekend custody might be insisted by the prison bureau.
Violating the terms of your probation is a punishable offense and punishment might vary depending on the discretion of the judge. In most cases a warning may suffice if no damage has been done to life and property of others. Where matters are serious deserving a review and punitive action, a probation violation hearing may become necessary. Fines could be levied, the suspended jail sentence could be imposed, and even additional jail term mandated depending on the seriousness of the violation.
Probation cannot be assumed to be the passport to unbridled freedom – it is punishment in a smaller dose than the harsh sentencing that awaits the accused had he gone through the regular grind. Probation is at once an opportunity to repent and reform and eschew violence or criminal behavior as it is an opportunity to undergo the less harsher punishment of mandatory conditions and self-imposed control over addictions that the court may enjoin. Much as probation may call for surrender of one’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, the momentary discomfort and violation or privacy would appear mild compared to the rigors of sentencing.