Probation and other Common Sentencing Terms Explained

First-time defendants are often bewildered by how fast things can happen in a courtroom, and they are left wondering if their “suspended” sentence or “probation” is a good thing when brought up on misdemeanor charges such as driving under the influence (DUI) or petty theft. This article briefly explains what some of the more common sentencing terms mean, although if you have a competent criminal defense lawyer representing you, the explanation will be much more in-depth.

“Probation” and “suspended” sentence often go hand in hand. When a judge finds you guilty of a misdemeanor, a jail sentence is imposed. However, there are circumstances where the judge will decide that instead of sending you directly to jail to serve out your sentence, the sentence is “suspended” and you are granted probation terms instead. In effect, the judge is saying that you can avoid going to jail provided you satisfy the conditions of probation such as not getting arrested again for the same offense.

A “suspended” sentence is just that; it’s like an axe hanging over your head. If you commit another crime within the probation period or violate any of the terms of your probation, the axe will fall and you will go to jail to serve your sentence.

Probation is usually granted to people who are first-time offenders. Judges tend to be more lenient towards those who have a clean record prior to the charge because the presumption is that it was a mistake that will not be repeated. It’s not as good as a dismissal, because you still get a misdemeanor conviction tacked on to your record, but it’s better than going to jail. Also, if you complete your probation without trouble, your misdemeanor charge may qualify for expunction. Expunction is basically removing the charge from your record. This is not an easy process, but it can be done with the help of an expunction lawyer.

Obviously, you will want to complete your probation, but if circumstances lead you to violate any of the terms i.e. inability to pay the imposed fine, your lawyer may still be able to argue for reinstatement of your probation by asking for a “dismissed” or “suspended” fine if you do not have the means to pay it. The court may consider to dismiss a fine outright i.e. never collect it or to order other conditions in lieu of the fine i.e. traffic school, thus effectively suspending it until completion of the requisite conditions, at which time the fine is considered no longer collectible.

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