If you've been arrested, convicted and sentenced for a crime, there is a chance the judge may give you a break and let you serve some or all of your sentence outside of a prison cell. However, you'll be under the supervision of a probation officer who makes sure you comply with the conditions of your release. If you get a traffic ticket or have some other contact with the police during this time, your probation status is likely to come up when the officer checks your record.
Different Forms of Probation
Probation can come in different forms. Upon conviction, you can receive a suspended sentence. This doesn't mean the amount of prison time you've been sentenced to is erased, but that it has been put on hold in exchange for complying with all of the terms of probation as the judge outlined. In the case of a suspended sentence, violating your probation puts you at risk for having your probation revoked and the judge placing you in prison to serve the original time the court handed out. Another possibility is that your entire sentence may be a probation-only sentence. However, violating a probation-only sentence could still land you in prison if the judge revokes your probation because of a violation. Some jurisdictions split the punishment, requiring you to serve a specific amount of time in prison, followed by a pre-determined amount of time on probation.
Probation Added to Criminal Record
When you are arrested, convicted and sentenced for a crime, this information is placed on your criminal record and is available to the local police departments and the justice department in your state. These agencies may also release this information to the licensing agencies that have the legal authority to conduct criminal background investigations. In addition to your arrest, conviction and sentencing history, your probation status is also reported on your criminal record. As a result of this information sharing, a police officer may learn of your probation status by running your name or other identification through various court and law enforcement databases, such as your Social Security number, date of birth and any aliases used.
Conditions of Probation and Police Contact
When the judge grants probation, he will place certain conditions on your release that you must follow until your probation ends. While these conditions can vary from offender to offender, common ones include reporting to your assigned probation officer as required, not traveling outside your residential area without advance permission, not breaking any laws, participating in regular drug testing, notifying your probation officer of any changes in employment or your residential address, and paying fines or restitution. While on probation, you're likely to come into contact with a police officer because of things like a traffic violation or being arrested for a new offense. If you're arrested, it's more likely your probation status will come up when the officer runs a criminal record search on you. However, with lesser infractions, like jaywalking or receiving a traffic ticket, your probation status may go unnoticed because the officer may not conduct an in-depth records search or any search at all, depending on the circumstances.
Erasing Probation History From Criminal Record
Once you successfully complete probation, you may be able to gain peace of mind by having the conviction and sentence cleared from your record. Some states, like California, allow eligible offenders to expunge certain infractions and crimes. First, the offender must qualify, which typically means following all court orders, completing probation and not having any new charges brought against him. Next, the offender must apply to the court to have his record cleared. There may be a waiting period between when an offender was convicted or finished his sentence and when the offender is eligible to apply. However, some convictions can never be cleared, such as many sex crimes.
- Nolo: Sentencing Alternatives - Prison, Probation, Fines, and Community Service
- State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections: Probation and Parole FAQs
- State Bar of California: What Should I Know if I'm Arrested?
- Kent and Cormican: Suggestions on How to Survive Probation (and Stay Out of Jail)
- State of California, County of Santa Clara: Record Clearance
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images