Formal Vs. Informal Probation

By Joe Stone
Even minor law violations, major problems, you, probation

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If you have been convicted of a crime, probation is often part of the sentence regardless of whether you have spent any time in jail. Probation allows you to remain out in the community, but on the condition that the court will supervise your life and may even require you to complete certain tasks. Various types of probation and the meaning of the term can differ between jurisdictions. In general, probation is identified as formal or informal, and the difference between the two is the level of scrutiny over your life.

Informal Probation

Whenever you are placed on probation, you are making an agreement with the sentencing judge that you will voluntarily comply with the court's orders, complete certain obligations in a timely manner and avoid any further criminal activity. In return for your agreement, the court will suspend sentencing you to the maximum jail time for your offense. If the sentencing judge agrees that you can carry out the terms of the probation without ongoing supervision, you will be placed on informal probation, also known as summary probation. So long as you complete the probation conditions by the deadlines set by the court, such s completing a DUI education program, you simply report to the court when you have satisfied the conditions and your probation will be terminated.

Formal Probation

Formal probation, also known as supervised probation, requires you to report to the court's probation department to be assigned a probation officer who will supervise you during the probationary period. You will be required to report to the probation officer frequently, often in person. Your probation officer will monitor all aspect of your compliance with the probation conditions ordered by the court.

Probation Conditions

All probation orders will include certain general conditions, such as obey all laws, keep the court informed of your current address and be fully employed or a full-time student. Cases involving alcohol or drug related offenses usually include prohibitions on consuming alcohol or drugs. In an informal probation, the court is relying on your promise to meet these conditions. In a formal probation, the probation officer has the power check for your compliance by requiring a drug test or conducting a drop-in visit at your residence or place of employment.

Probation Revocation Hearing

If you violate the any terms of probation, the court will hold a probation revocation hearing in your case. If the court finds you in violation, the court can revoke probation and send you to jail or modify the terms of your probation. In informal probation, the court will not be alerted a possible violation unless you fail to meet a deadline, such as a fine payment or educational program completion date. When these situations occur, the court will most likely modify the probation to extend the missed deadline. In a formal probation, your probation officer is the one who alerts the court to your probation violations. Since your probation officer has probably already given you the opportunity to comply with missed deadlines, a probation violation hearing in this situation will probably result in jail time.

Formal Probation Programs

Formal probation in some jurisdictions includes programs that allow you to perform certain community work as part of your sentence, such as the Probation Camp program in Sonoma County, California. Such programs are designed to provide you with the opportunity to participate in community work rather go to a jail bed. You are also afforded the opportunity to live at home, stay employed and completed probation conditions assigned by the court.

About the Author

Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.