Imagine that you are facing felony charges for your first offense. You have never done anything wrong in your life and are scared of what your future holds. The prosecutor asks to meet with you and your lawyer about making a plea agreement. He says he will recommend that you be placed on formal probation in exchange for your guilty plea. You breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that you just got off easy.
The truth is that felony probation is not as easy as it seems. While it is definitely better than spending time in prison, it is still meant to be a punishment and can be very challenging. Living under felony probation is a lot like walking on a tightrope over a pit: the slightest misstep will send you into a deep, dark hole, and it will take you years to claw your way out of it.
1. You Can Still Go to Prison
If you are on felony probation, you will need to meet regularly with a probation officer. The officer will evaluate your performance, checking to see whether you have complied with the terms and conditions of your probation. If you do not, you can be taken into custody and you could receive the maximum sentence allowed for the crime you plead guilty to.
2. You Have to Pay for Your Supervision
In addition to paying fines for your crime, there is a monthly fee for the cost of your probationary supervision. How much the fee will cost depends on the county that is supervising your probation and the nature of your crime. Payment of these costs cannot be included as a condition of your probation, which means that you cannot be jailed for a probation violation if you fail to pay. However, the court can impose the debt as a civil judgment, allowing the unpaid costs to be recovered through other collection methods, such as wage garnishment.
3. You Can Violate Probation Without Breaking Another Law
Your probation agreement is like a contract with a state. Under that "contract," you agree to not only break no other laws, but also to fulfill any conditions that are part of your probation. This means that if you fail to pay your fines, attend any required meetings with your probation officer, or complete any programs (such as a treatment program for alcohol or drugs), you could be violating your probation.
4. You May Be Able to Meet with Your Probation Officer by Phone
Meeting with your probation officer is a requirement of formal probation for a felony. However, after your first few meetings, and if the probation officer determines that you are in compliance, they have the discretion to allow you to maintain contact by phone or by video communication, such as Skype and FaceTime.
5. Your Travel Is Restricted
Typically, one of the conditions of your probation will be that you cannot leave the state without either notifying your probation officer, or getting the permission of the probation officer (if your case requires it). It is also a good idea to notify your probation officer even if you only plan to travel outside your home county. Before you make any travel plans, be sure to work with your probation officer so that your travel does not end up being considered a violation of your probation.
6. Your Ability to Move to Another State May Be Restricted
Similar to above, if you need to move to a different state, you must work with your probation officer. In many cases, you may be able to have your supervision transferred to another jurisdiction by petitioning the court and by getting the approval of your probation officer. If the move is due to your employment or if it is for family reasons, the court may be willing to grant your transfer to another state.
7. You May Be Required to Have a Job
Some courts can require you to be gainfully employed. However, if you are unemployed, your probation officer has the discretion to consider you in compliance with your probation terms if you can show that you are actively seeking employment.
Where many people run into trouble is that they are unwilling to take jobs that they feel are beneath them or not worth their time. The best thing that you can do is to take any job you can find, and then keep looking for another job that better suits you. As long as you have some employment, your probation officer will generally consider you in compliance with this condition of your probation.
8. Your Home and Person Can Be Searched Without a Warrant
A common condition of probation is that you agree to submit to a search of your person or property without a warrant. This is especially common in drug cases, because the court wants to verify that you are not in possession of illegal drugs. This may include drug testing as well.
9. Your Family Is Not Entitled to Talk to Your Probation Officer
If you are over the age of 18, your probation officer is not allowed to discuss your case with anyone who is not affiliated with it. This means that people such as family members, friends, spouses, neighbors and others do not have a right to be informed of the status of your probation. So, for example, if you are a young adult, and your parents want to know whether you are keeping up with your probation, the officer cannot give them any updates without your written permission.
10. You Can Violate Your Probation by Associating with the Wrong Crowd
Depending on your criminal history, the court can impose a restriction on who you are allowed to associate with while on probation. In 2011, for example, the California Court of Appeals concluded that a "no-gang-contact" condition could be imposed if you have a criminal history that indicates you are involved in a gang, or if a family member has ties to a gang.
If you or someone you care about is facing felony charges, you will need an experienced and aggressive attorney to defend you.
This content originally appeared at wklaw.com/10-things-to-know-before-agreeing-to-felony-probation. The writer retains all copyrights.