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What Is Probation and What Does It Entail?

Interviewer: Can we get like an in a nutshell definition of what is probation?

Supervised Probation and Unsupervised Probation

Brian Geno: The probation office is a government office that supervises people who have been convicted for any number of things, misdemeanors and felonies. There are two types of probation. Probation is basically supervision and correction. There’s the supervised probation and then there’s unsupervised probation.

Misdemeanor Charges Generally Receive Unsupervised Probation

Misdemeanors are typically better candidates for unsupervised probation. Some people charged with felonies could get unsupervised probation but it would have to be a low-level crime.

The supervised probation is an office that really does require you to check in a lot. They want to ask you specific questions like, “Do you have a job? Have you been staying out of trouble?” They want verification that you are doing all the things that they’ve told you to do. That might include classes. That might include treatment. That might include repaying a debt that you incurred.

You Must Be Careful Not to Violate Any Terms of the Probation

The probation office is not a warm and fuzzy, friendly office to help you. They are an office there who will report back to the court and to the prosecutor’s office any violations you may make. They’re not vindictive about it but they don’t take you at your word.

For example, if you were supposed to report in to probation this week and you went to that probation office and your probation officer wasn’t there. You left a message on the phone saying, “I showed up. You weren’t here. What do you want me to do?”

If the probation officer doesn’t get that message, doesn’t check the voicemail or doesn’t write it down, then there’s no record that you came and they may contact you and say, “You didn’t show up. Why didn’t you show up? You need to show up?” They fault you for it.

If they develop a bad attitude about you, you’ll find that you’ll continue to have problems with them and the will continue not to believe you. If they ever go to court saying that you’ve violated, the court won’t even take the defendant’s word for it that they tried. The probation office is always right and the defendant is always the one who must bear the consequence of not doing everything exactly right for the probation office.

The Probation Office Will Report Any Violations to the Court and You May Face an Incarceration Sentence

In my office, we take the probation as seriously as we take the defense of a crime. This is because I know that you have to take really solid measure to protect yourself from the probation office. They will not hesitate to require you to go back to jail if they don’t like the way you’ve handled things.

Sometimes what they ask you to do can be pretty onerous. I’ve had a client before who is required to appear to go to a class every afternoon for a three week period and they couldn’t do it because they would lose their job if they went at that time. My client said, “I can’t do it. I’ll lose my job.” The probation officer said, “Well, you have this one choice. Go to this class or go back to jail.” She chose to work which she needed to and she did go back to jail. That’s not an isolated incident.