Contributed by Kate Rideout.
About 95% of criminal cases are resolved through plea deals, many of which involve probation as part of a criminal sentence. Probation allows an individual to avoid incarceration by submitting to the court’s supervision for a certain period of time and under certain conditions. When deciding whether to take a plea deal involving probation, there are many important things to consider. A few of these considerations are discussed below.
Fines, Fees, & How to Pay Them
One of the most common terms or conditions of probation is the requirement to pay statutory fines and court fees/costs. To avoid violating your probation, these fines and fees must be paid to the correct agency and in the correct amount. For example, in Arkansas, individuals on probation under supervision of the Department of Community Correction must pay a $35 fee to the department each month. Arkansas allows for online payment of such fees, but it is important to consult with an attorney to ensure you are aware of all circumstances surrounding any required fees and how they must be paid.
There are also many collateral consequences that may come along with pleading to probation. Collateral consequences refer to the legal disabilities imposed by the law on an individual as a result of a criminal conviction, regardless of whether the individual serves any time behind bars. Whether the plea agreement requires an acceptance of responsibility is key for whether many collateral consequences are triggered. Depending on your circumstances and charges, collateral consequences may include loss of voting rights, loss of driver’s license, restrictions on your ability to travel outside the state, loss of Second Amendment rights, loss of government benefits or aid such as food stamps and public housing, restraints on employment opportunities, loss of Fourth Amendment rights due to search waivers, restrictions on who you may associate with, and impacts on immigration status. It is important to understand what consequences your charges may have on you before agreeing to any deal.
Consequences if Probation is Revoked
One of the most significant considerations when deciding whether to plead to probation is the potential consequences you may face if you violate any of the terms of your probation and the government moves to revoke your probation. If probation is revoked, the full range of punishment now becomes available. For example, if you are serving probation on a ten year sentence and your probation is revoked, you may now have to serve the entire ten year sentence, regardless of how many years of probation you have already served. Additionally, the standard of proof in revocation situations is what is known as the preponderance of the evidence standard, meaning the government simply has to prove that it is more likely than not that you violated a term or condition of probation in order to revoke your probation.
How to Succeed on Probation
If probation is the best option for you, there are a few things you want to make sure you do to give yourself the best chance to successfully complete probation. First, after receiving an order for probation, you must report to your probation officer within a specified period of time set by the Court. For example, in the Western District of Arkansas, individuals must report to the probation office in the judicial district in which they reside within 72 hours of being released from incarceration. In state court, the Judge will inform you whether you must report immediately or within 24 to 48 hours.
After initially reporting to the probation office, you will receive instructions from the court or probation officer about how and when you have to report to your probation officer moving forward, and it is extremely important to report as instructed. It is critical to keep in touch with your probation officer and attend all meetings, especially in the first three months. Refraining from committing any further crimes and complying with all terms and conditions of probation are also essential.
But most importantly, you should always speak to an attorney before making any decision pertaining to any criminal charges you may face, and the experienced attorneys at Miller, Butler, Schneider, Pawlik, & Rozzell are ready to help you make the decision that is right for you.