Probation is an opportunity to prove to the court that you’re able to comply with the court’s rules, the law, and avoid incarceration. As simple as it sounds, to be successful on probation, all you need to do is follow the rules.
1) Read the probation order. Then read it again. Seriously, one of the biggest complaints we hear as criminal defense attorneys is that our clients didn’t know a particular behavior was prohibited by the terms of their probation. Probation is your chance to avoid jail — take the time to make sure you know the rules.
2) Ask, if in doubt. If you don’t understand what a specific term of probation means, ask your criminal defense attorney or your probation officer before you take a chance. For example, if you have a probation term that says you can’t be in a place where alcohol is served, you need to ask your probation officer how broadly that is interpreted. Does it mean that you can’t be in a restaurant that has a liquor license or you just can’t be in the bar area? What if you work as a bartender or waitress? These are all questions that your probation officer can answer, if you ask before you do something. When in doubt, you should ask.
3) Check your mail. I know this is 2018, but most courts still communicate via snail mail. This means that if the court or your probation officer wants to get in touch with you, they will likely send you a letter. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your mail for weeks or you might find that the court issues a warrant for your arrest.
4) Show up for your probation meetings. Most probation sentences require you to report and meet with your probation officer regularly. Show up early. If you wan’t to avoid jail, don’t be the guy calling the next day saying he forgot to go.
5) Have a good attitude. Probation officers deal with angry people all day long. Probation officers are humans — they don’t want to be treated poorly. Stand out by being polite and respectful. Don’t argue over things that don’t matter. Get things done before the deadline and be happy about it. For example, if you’re ordered to do a class and some community service in 60 days, get it done in the first 15. You’ll stand out in a good way that might result in an early discharge from probation.
6) Don’t commit new crimes. One of the biggest things that gets probationers into trouble is committing new crimes. If you’re on probation, this is your chance to prove that you made a poor choice and don’t need to be punished harshly. If you commit a new crime while on probation, you can bet you’re going to have an angry judge. Stay away from the people and situations that might get you into trouble.
Probation can be a great way to put a poor decision behind you, but it requires that you pay close attention to the terms and conditions of your probation order. Often times it feels like you’re being asked to jump through hoops for no apparent reason. While this may be true in some cases, the alternative is less pleasant. If you have questions about what a probation term means or how to get through probation successfully, contact an experienced criminal.