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10 Tips to Successfully Complete Probation
#1. Be Aware of the Prosecutor’s Hidden Agenda and Don’t Fall Victim to It.
Often, the state finds it easier to convict a person on a probation violation than the original charge. Therefore, the district lawyer may agree to a reduced sentence which includes probation rather than going to trial.
For example, a defendant, “Lou” is charged with felony possession of cocaine. He has a prior history and could receive active time. However, the cocaine was not in his immediate possession, but was within his reach. He might be convicted after a trial or he might get off if the jury decides the drugs were not in his possession, and he had no intent to control them. Lou’s lawyer and the district attorney work out a deal where he pleads to reduced charges and receives probation and no active time.
If Lou violates the terms of his probation by using cocaine and has a positive drug test, the case for the district attorney just got easier. All the district attorney has to do to send Lou to jail is prove that proper protocol was used to conduct the drug screen and a positive test for cocaine occurred. This is much easier than proving that Lou had the intent to control the cocaine in the original case.
Here is the secret; a smart district attorney knows she may get a second shot at you on probation and will have a much easier case to prove.
#2. Keep your Appointments with Your Probation Officer and Cultivate a Good Relationship with Him or Her.
No excuses, keep your appointments. You do not want your probation officer to come to your home or place of work looking for you. First, missing appointments is typically a violation of your probation. In addition, if a probation officer comes looking for you there is a better chance, he or she will find additional violations.
For example, probationer Joe is at work and cannot get a ride to the probation office. Joe fails to call his probation officer because he just does not want to go through the hassle. Joe goes home, and Bob comes over and lights up a joint while visiting. You know how this will end; Joe’s probation officer chooses this time to visit because he missed an office visit.
Do your best to make a good impression on your probation officer. He or she has a lot of power. Your probation officer may be willing to overlook a minor violation if he or she believes you are sincerely trying to follow the rules and turn your life around .Finally, make sure your probation officer always has your current contact information. If you move, be sure to let him or her know.
#3. Keep All Paperwork Having to Do with Your Probation.
Get yourself an expandable file folder and toss every piece of paper, certificate, and receipt that has anything to do with your probation into it. You want to have proof that you have paid your fines and restitution and attended all programs, classes, and meetings with your probation officer that your probation requires.
#4. Keep Good Records of Your Job Search and Expenses, Especially if Money Is an Issue.
Money is an issue for most probationers. The court typically imposes fines, fees, and restitution. You need a job. With a criminal record, it may be easier said than done. Without a job, you cannot pay the money ordered by the court. Even if you find a job, you may not have enough money to pay court-ordered fines and living expenses. Inability to pay court-ordered costs, fees, and restitution can be a defense to a probation violation. Typically, a court must find that a probation violation was willful before probation is revoked. Therefore, the court may continue your probation if you can prove you made a good faith effort to pay.
Look for a job and keep a detailed record of when and where you searched. Example: “On Monday, Dec. 21, I sent/hand-delivered applications to companies A, B, C. for Open Position.” Better: I spoke to Mr. Jones, who is the personnel director for Company A, and his telephone number is 555-555-4567.”
Your probation officer may provide you with the forms to be completed indicating where you have looked for a job. Do not overlook these seemingly minor details. If your probation officer does cite you for failure to pay a fine, the form could be the critical piece of evidence at your probation hearing. Judges like to see something tangible, something they can put their hands on. Your lawyer can approach the judge with the list to show your good faith effort.
Similarly, keep a record of your expenses. Rent, power bills, medical expenses, food, and other necessities can be a defense for failure to pay. In addition, keep the bills, which can be used as evidence. A word of warning, be sure the item is an actual necessity. For example, electricity is a necessity, cable or satellite television is not a necessity. Your lawyer can assist you with what records or expenses need to be submitted to the court.
#5. Consider Participating in an Alcohol or Drug Program, Even if Not Required by the Terms of Your Probation.
Alcohol and drug abuse is often a sensitive area for people on probation. Many who are caught up in the criminal justice system have substance abuse issues and have not admitted to the problem. Usually, drug screens are a requirement of probation. The court may not require you to participate in a drug or alcohol rehab program, although it requires you to prove you are alcohol or drug-free with periodic screenings.
Regardless of whether the court requires participation in a drug-alcohol support program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, give serious consideration to such a program for two reasons. If you are cited for a probation violation, your good faith participation in a drug/alcohol program may improve your standing with the court. And, more importantly, if you do have a drug or alcohol problem, the program may help you overcome it and change your life dramatically for the better.
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10 Tips to Successfully Complete Probation – Continued
#6. Follow No Contact Orders.
No contact orders are a frequent probation restriction, especially if the crime is a domestic assault or involved a spouse or significant other. If the order states stay away from your spouse, child, or fiancé, stay away. You may feel remorseful and want to make amends and repair the relationship. To make matters more complicated, your partner may be open to your advances and may agree to meet you and resume the relationship.
All too often, the result of a violation is the problems that created the original charge reemerge, and a second conflict occurs. Or no conflict occurs, but your partner just wants you gone. The police are called, and you face two charges, a probation violation, and new assault charges. The lesson is clear. Until the no-contact order is lifted or expires, obey it.
#7. Choose Your Friends Carefully.
If you are on supervised probation, major lifestyle changes may be required. For example, prior to probation, you should choose with whom you associate. However, probation conditions may forbid you from associating with people who have felony convictions and put other restrictions. If the convicted felon is an immediate family member or someone at your job, an exception typically applies. Tell your lawyer and probation officer and get their guidance.
In addition to the requirements of probation, you need to exercise independent judgment too. Do not associate with people who engage in risky behavior. Example: assume your friend Bob typically has marijuana with him but has no criminal record. However, you are riding with Bob, he is speeding, and stopped by a state trooper. Unfortunately, Bob smoked in the car and the officer smelled marijuana. The police officer searches the car and finds a small bag of marijuana lying on the console, right beside where you are sitting. You could be in violation and charged with possession. Why take the risk?
#8. Exercise Caution When Driving.
Avoid traffic stops that could escalate into something more. Drive carefully, obey traffic laws, and make sure your vehicle has no equipment violations that would attract police attention. Keep your license, registration, and insurance current and on your person or in your vehicle. Pay outstanding traffic tickets. Don’t loan your car to anyone or at least to anyone who poses a risk of getting stopped. Similarly don’t ride with anyone unless you are confident the person is not involved in any illegal activity that could get you into trouble.
#9. Know and Follow any Gun Possession Restrictions.
You may not be allowed to possess a gun due to probation restrictions or a felony conviction. The restriction may extend beyond actual ownership of a gun or having the gun in your hands. The prohibition can include a gun that is in your home or that you have access to. Even if the gun is owned by someone else in your household, you could possibly be charged with violating probation.
#10. If You Are Required to Register as a Sex Offender, Be Sure to Register.
People convicted of sexual offenses usually have to register their address. Registering makes it difficult to rent a house or apartment and makes it hard to find a job, and you may not really pose a risk to the community. However, all the above excuses are irrelevant. One of the last things a judge or district lawyer wants to be accused of is letting a sexual offender off the hook who then harms another person. So, if you are cited by your probation officer for failing to register, your lawyer will have a tough time convincing the judge to continue your probation. Another word of warning, the requirement to register often extends beyond the period of probation.
•To ensure successful completion of your probation, make sure you know, understand, and follow the restrictions placed on you. Your best resources are your lawyer and probation officer.
•Know what your obligations are when you receive probation. Do not guess and do not wait; find out the day you are placed on probation.
•Save all probation-related paperwork.
•Attend all required meetings with your probation officer.
•If money is a problem, maintain financial records and a history of job searches.
•Get help with any alcohol or drug problems.
•Do not associate with people who break the law or engage in questionable behavior.
•Follow traffic laws and avoid attracting police attention.
•Obey no-contact orders.
•Know and follow gun possession restrictions, which may mean you cannot live in a household with a gun regardless of who owns the gun.
•If you are required to register as a sexual offender, do it.
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