An Examination of Your Probation

There’s no getting around the fact that Utah has a limited number of jail and prison cells for would-be offenders, and that each incarcerated offender costs Utah  taxpayers a good deal of money.  According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the 2010 average dollar amount spent per inmate in Utah was around $29,000.00 each year – a lot of money when you consider the average prison population for that year was over six thousand people.  But the reality is that a lot more than six thousand people commit crimes that could potentially land them in jail or prison, so where are they all?

Enter probation – a court-sanctioned method of keeping tabs on offenders without having to front the costs of incarcerating them.  Probation means that, in lieu of a jail or prison sentence, the court has sentenced you to a series of requirements and is now going to make sure you follow through on them.  As a policy, probation has existed in the United States since at least the late 1800’s, so just about everyone who’s been involved in the criminal justice system of Utah is familiar with it.  For those who aren’t, though, it’s a good idea to learn the particulars, specifically concerning the two types of probation which exist: 1) Court or Good Behavior Probation, and 2) Supervised Probation.

  1. Court or Good Behavior Probation

If there is a preferable option when it comes to probation, court or good behavior probation is probably it.  Generally speaking, this is the most non-intrusive form of probation: your case remains open and a court clerk will periodically monitor that you are being compliant with the terms of your sentencing, but you typically won’t have to submit to any of the random testing, rigorous searches and regular meetings that usually come with supervised probation.  So long as you stay on top of your fine payments, keep up on your community service, attend your treatment classes, provide all necessary documentation to the court on time and avoid committing any new crimes, you’ll probably never even be aware you’ve been placed on probation.

That said, if you violate some term of your probation, the results can be just as serious as though you violated the supervised probation below.  As soon as the court catches the violation, the consequences can be anything from a collections letter, an order to show cause hearing (where the judge demands you appear and explain the violation), or the issuing of a warrant.  Court or good behavior probation may keep a low profile, but violate it and you’ll learn it can have a really bad bite!

  1. Supervised Probation

Whereas court or good behavior probation might be the pink-slip version, supervised probation is the full-on Saturday morning detention of the criminal justice world: it makes its presence felt.  In fact, when most people hear the word probation, this is probably what they think of – there can be probation officers, interviews, ankle monitoring, random searches and seizers without respect to your right against them, drug and chemical tests (such as urinalysis), and more.  Even your house or car can be subject to random searches without probable cause, which in any other scenario would probably be ruled unconstitutional.  In a word, you are so heavily monitored when under supervised probation that it makes court or good behavior probation look like a walk in the park.  But still, where the alternative is jail or prison time, supervised probation usually appears preferable.

Like court or good behavior probation, violating your supervised probation can result in very serious consequences, not the least of which are mentioned above.  The main difference between the consequences of violating your court or good behavior probation and your supervised probation is the speed at which you get flagged – while a court clerk may only check the status of your case from time to time, having your own personal probation officer monitoring your progress very closely means that you can have a warrant out for your arrest only hours after committing a violation, so stay on top of it!

As a way to save the taxpayers money, it’s hard to argue against probation; as a means of avoiding spending six months in jail or prison, it’s nothing if not desirable.  Still, it’s a good idea to learn what type of probation you’re going to be working with and what they will be monitoring you for.  Even on the last day of your probation, a violation can still land you in jail, so be aggressive.  Don’t wait for your probation officer to catch you late on a payment to the court or on completion of a treatment class – get them done early!  And as always, if you do slip up, don’t hesitate to get a private defense attorney involved.  Not only can they usually deal with a violation and keep you out of jail, but in some cases they can modify the terms of or even terminate your probation early!

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