A Texas Probation Primer

Defense

In highly specific situations, felony probation is available in lieu of jail sentences in the State of Texas. Depending upon the circumstances involved, either the judge or the jury can issue a sentence of probation, and when this happens, the defendant either avoids jail time altogether or spends less time in jail than he or she would have otherwise. Those assigned to probation are under what is commonly called community supervision and must carefully adhere to the strict conditions set by their probation sentences. Probation offers those convicted of certain crimes the ability to be supervised within the confines of the community – rather than behind bars.

Felony Probation

In Texas, felony probation amounts to a criminal sentence that some defendants receive upon conviction (as a stand-in for jail time), and there are also misdemeanor probation options. Additionally, probation can reduce the amount of jail time that the defendant is required to serve. Felony probation in the State of Texas takes three primary forms that include:

  • Deferred Adjudication – Deferred adjudication refers to instances in which judges delay cases that are pending in order for the defendants to perform the requirements of probation.

  • Conviction Probation – Conviction probation refers to instances in which judges include probation sentences – in addition to jail time – after the defendants are found guilty.

  • Straight Probation – Straight probation refers to instances in which judges or juries sentence defendants who have been convicted of their charge to probation only (no jail time).

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Terms and Conditions

Defendants who are sentenced to felony probation are required to adhere to the terms and conditions set forth therein, and these correlate with the kind and severity of the criminal offense in question. Common terms and conditions of probation include:

  • The probationer is required to avoid being arrested or facing another criminal charge.

  • The probationer is required to engage in a specific number of hours performing community service.

  • The probationer is required to pay restitution to those harmed by his or her offense.

  • The probationer is required to pay all court costs, supervision fees, and other court-ordered fines and penalties.

  • The probationer is required to report to a probation officer on a regular basis.

  • The probationer is required to report any changes in address or employment to his or her probation officer.

  • The probationer is required to stay in the county in which he or she received probation unless his or her probation officer gives him or her express permission to do otherwise.

  • The probationer is required to avoid people with criminal records and to avoid any co-defendants in the conviction that led to probation in the first place.

  • The probationer is required to obtain and maintain a steady job.

  • The probationer is required to keep up with all child support, spousal maintenance, and other financial obligations.

  • The probationer is required to undergo random drug and/or alcohol testing.

The terms and conditions of probation can be very strict and very long-lasting, and any form of violation can lead to serious consequences, including revocation of your probation altogether.

The Revocation of Probation

If a probationer fails to carefully adhere to the terms and conditions of his or her probation, it can lead to a revocation of said probation. Upon such a violation, the prosecutor can take immediate action, including filing a motion to revoke or adjudicate probation. Upon receipt of such a motion, the court will issue a warrant for the probationer’s arrest. From here, the probationer is arrested and held in the county jail until the scheduled revocation hearing. At this hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate that the probationer violated the terms and conditions of his or her probation, but in order to accomplish this, the prosecution need only reach the level of a preponderance of the evidence (in contrast to the much higher legal bar of beyond a reasonable doubt that is necessary to convict someone of a crime).

If the court is persuaded by the prosecution’s case, it will either revoke the defendant’s probation and send him or her to jail to fulfill his or her original sentence (with the sentence beginning anew – probationers receive no credit for time served on probation) or will tighten up the terms and conditions of the defendant’s probation before releasing him or her back into community supervision.

Probation and Early Endings

In Texas, probation – under certain circumstances – can end early, but in order to be considered for an early ending, the probationer must not only complete a certain percentage of his or her probation sentence but must also complete all the early termination requirements. Early termination requirements can include:

  • The probationer paying all attorney fees and court costs

  • The probationer completing drug and/or alcohol treatment

  • The probationer pursuing a higher education

Sentencing Probation

Either the judge who hears the case or the jury involved can sentence a convicted defendant to probation. Although juries have more discretion when it comes to sentencing probation, they are less likely to invoke this right. While judges cannot sentence anyone charged with a so-called 3G offense to straight probation, they are more likely overall to issue probation sentences than juries (who can sentence straight probation for 3G offenses) are. 3G offenses include:

  • Burglary

  • Aggravated robbery

  • Aggravated kidnapping

  • Sexual assault

  • Aggravated sexual assault

  • Sexual performance by a child

  • Capital murder

  • Murder

  • Compelling prostitution

  • Criminal solicitation cases that are punishable as first-degree felonies

  • Drug cases in which a child is used in the crime’s commission (or in which the crime took place within 1,000 feet of a school or on a school bus)

  • Indecency with a child

  • Human trafficking

  • A first-degree felony that results in injury to a child, a senior, or a person with a disability

When Felony Probation Is Not an Option

There are specific cutoffs in which probation is not a sentencing option, and these include all felony convictions with sentences of more than ten years. Further, 3G offenses are ineligible for straight probation until a jury verdict has been obtained. At this point, the jury can sentence straight probation, but the judge can only sentence probation in addition to jail time.

FAQ

The answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to probation may answer some of your own questions on the topic.

What is the difference between probation and parole?

Probation refers to what is known as community supervision, and it is a sentence that is served outside the confines of jail. Parole, on the other hand, refers to supervision in the community after serving part of a jail or prison sentence.

What costs are associated with probation?

There are several court-ordered probation costs in the State of Texas, including:

  • Fines

  • Adult probation fees

  • Court costs

The judge can also add payment of the fees for your court-appointed attorney and payment of restitution (which is intended to cover the losses experienced by the victim of your offense). Keeping up with these court-ordered payments is a condition of your probation, but if you find that you are unable to do so, your probation officer may recommend a more manageable payment plan to the court.

What does the probation officer do?

You should not think of your probation officer as your watchdog or enemy but, instead, should appreciate him or her for the help he or she can offer, including:

  • Helping you set up the appointments you are expected to make

  • Answering any probation-related questions you may have

  • Referring you to the classes you are required to take

The goal is to fulfill your probation requirements, and your probation officer can help you with that. Your probation officer will also supervise your probation and report back to the court in relation to how well you are doing. Your probation officer is tasked with protecting the community, which means that he or she may stop by to check in with you at your home or place of work or may request that you meet up with him or her in his or her office.

What happens with deferred adjudication?

Deferred adjudication is sometimes offered to first-time offenders, and it allows the defendant to bypass a criminal record if he or she is able to adhere to the careful rules and conditions of the deferred adjudication. In these cases, the judge defers – or delays – the entrance of the defendant’s conviction, and this deferment turns into a dismissal as long as the defendant is able to successfully complete the probationary requirements. If this deferred adjudication is, however, revoked due to the probationer failing to complete his or her requirements, the prosecutor can seek a jail or prison sentence for the full length of the original sentence (regardless of the length of the deferred adjudication probation).

In this sense, the revocation of deferred adjudication probation is harsher than it is for straight probation. The sentence for a revocation of straight probation cannot be longer than the period of straight probation. Because deferred adjudication is considered a second chance, failing to adhere to its mandates can inspire the court to impose even harsher penalties than you would have experienced if you had been sentenced to time behind bars in the first place.

What happens at a revocation hearing?

If the prosecution files a motion for a revocation hearing, it means that the prosecution is accusing you of violating the conditions of your probation, and it needs to prove this only in accordance with a preponderance of the evidence, which is much less arduous than proving it beyond a reasonable doubt (as is required in criminal cases). You generally have the legal right to defend yourself against such a charge, and it is important to note that if your probation is revoked, it does not necessarily mean that you will go directly to jail. The judge has options that include:

  • Requiring you to seek counseling

  • Requiring you to attend a treatment program

  • Imposing new fines

  • Extending the duration of your probation

Additionally, you can request a bail hearing that might allow you to remain free prior to the judge rendering his or her final determination. Finally, you also have the right to appeal a conviction for a violation of probation, and if the appeals court determines that the court in your case either made an error of legal judgment or had insufficient evidence to convict you, your probation violation could be dismissed.

Can I decrease the length of my probation?

In some instances, probationers can decrease the amount of time they are required to stay on probation. Generally, a probationer’s probation officer will identify him or her as eligible for early release from community supervision. Early release is contingent upon you successfully performing the requirements of your probation, including completing all court-ordered community service hours, paying all court-ordered fines, and completing any additional court-ordered requirements.

How much will I owe for probation?

Many people are confused by the fact that payment is part of a probationer’s sentence. There is not, however, a set payment amount, and the cost of your probation will hinge upon the circumstances of your case. Most probationers are required to pay a specific amount that may include a monthly charge to offset the cost of having a public defender (if applicable).

Do I need a criminal defense lawyer?

The fact is that public defenders often handle hundreds of criminal cases at the same time, which – by definition – means that they cannot provide you with the personalized legal counsel you need. Further, if you are convicted and sentenced to probation (or to jail or prison time), you will be required to repay the State of Texas for the resources it invested in your public defender. As such, it is always in your best interest to have the professional legal counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney – who has the resources, experience, and legal insight to address your unique legal needs – on your side.

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An Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer Is on Your Side

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, takes great pride in his proven ability to help clients like you obtain beneficial case resolutions. To learn more, please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.

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