Probation and court supervision are two alternative sentencing schemes, both of which allow someone convicted of an offense to avoid serving time in jail. They are imposed, however, under different sets of circumstances. The sentences are similar, but not identical.
Court supervision and probation are both sentences imposed by a court in lieu of a term in jail. Both require some type of monitoring, usually by court services personnel, and both often have educational and community service requirements, as well as fees to be paid during the term of supervision or probation.
Court supervision is generally available for misdemeanor offenses, as well as traffic tickets and administrative violations. Probation is a disposition that is usually available for felonies and some misdemeanors deemed too serious for court supervision but not significant enough to require incarceration.
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A sentence of court supervision is not a conviction. If the person sentenced to supervision adheres to the terms and conditions--successfully completing the term of supervision--the charges can be expunged from the record. A sentence of probation generally cannot be expunged and, in most cases, will remain on the convicted person’s record forever.
Probation often requires in-depth monitoring of the convicted defendant by a probation officer. Weekly visits are sometimes required, and these visits are sometimes made unannounced. Contrast court supervision, for which the only requirement is often that the defendant avoid being arrested again during the term of supervision.
Failure to comply with the terms of either supervision or probation is a crime in and of itself. A violation may be filed for a subsequent arrest, for failing to appear for a meeting with the probation department, for failing to pay fines and costs, and for a variety of other reasons. Conviction of a violation can subject the defendant to revocation of the supervision or probation, as well as a jail sentence of up to the maximum allowed by law for the offense for which he was placed on supervision or probation.
Timothy M. Murphy has been practicing law and writing professionally in Chicago since 1998. Initially contributing articles on comparative legal studies in "Blackacre" and "The Forum," Murphy now writes about law and small business for Demand Studios. Murphy holds a bachelor's degree in Asian history, as well as advanced degrees in law, business and Chinese language.