A person convicted of a crime in the state of Alabama faces various penalties; depending on the charge, these can be fines, jail or probation. A person can get probation instead of serving jail time, or as a condition of serving only time behind bars. Under Alabama law, probation can be either unsupervised or supervised. The requirements of unsupervised probation are easier to fulfill, but the offender shouldn't take it any less seriously than other penalties.
Violating probation can result in more penalties, including incarceration, but once a person completes their term of probation, their sentence is usually complete.
What Is Probation?
Probation is a court-ordered penalty for most misdemeanors and felonies as an alternative to jail time or following a period of incarceration. When the court sentences probation, it usually suspends the offender's incarceration sentence, making that suspension conditional on the offender meeting specific requirements.
The threat of going back to jail if the offender violates the terms of probation is in place throughout the probationary period. When an individual successfully completes the conditions of probation successfully, they are usually free from any other penalties.
General Conditions of Probation
According to the Code of Alabama Title 15 Section 22-50, circuit and district courts in Alabama can order probation as a sentence in both misdemeanor and felony cases. The only caveat is that the punishment for the crime does not include death or a prison sentence of over 15 years.
The exact conditions of a probation sentence are up to the court's discretion. However, the term of probation cannot exceed two years for a misdemeanor or five years for a felony. The court can extend or reduce the original sentence as long as it is within these guidelines.
How an Offender Serves Alabama Probation
When an offender gets a probation sentence, the court refers their case to a probation officer, who investigates and makes recommendations. The probation officer then provides the defendant with instructions on how to serve their time and informs them on what happens if they violate those terms.
The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles appoints probation officers, who act in a dual capacity by serving the probation courts and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. They are law enforcement officers with the power to make an arrest, and like other members of law enforcement, they must meet the requirements of the Peace Officers Minimum Standards and Training Act.
Some conditions of probation require the offender to:
- Obey laws.
- Report to their probation officer as directed.
- Pay fines, fees or restitution.
- Maintain a job, school courses or vocational training.
- Not use or possess illicit drugs or weapons.
- Submit to drug or alcohol testing.
- Submit to DNA samples.
- Submit to monitoring via GPS.
- Installation of an interlock ignition device (IID) in their vehicle for a specific amount of time.
- Attend and complete counseling or substance abuse treatment.
- Submit to searches without warrant and probable cause.
- Not travel outside of the state or country with permission.
- Keep away from specific locations or people.
- Attend and complete community service or courses like anger management.
Supervised vs. Unsupervised Probation
A person on supervised probation has a probation officer who ensures they comply with all of the court's requirements and monitors their progress as they go. Unsupervised probation usually occurs if the offense is a misdemeanor, and the court deems supervised probation to be unnecessary, but still needs some conditions for the offender's release. There is no probation officer in this instance.
Whether an offender serves unsupervised or supervised probation, they should not violate any local, state or federal laws during their term. While unsupervised probation is less oppressive, breaking its terms can lead to serious ramifications for the offender.
What Happens When There Is a Probation Violation?
If an offender violates their probation terms, their assigned probation officer may order their arrest. Law enforcement can do this without a warrant, and additional penalties may apply, including probation revocation or jail time. If revocation of probation takes place, Alabama requires a hearing. A judge will detail the violations committed, and the offender has the right to defend themselves against these charges.
If the offender is not successful in defending themselves, the court may issue several outcomes:
- Continuation of current probation requirements.
- Formal or informal warning to the offender that more violations will result in probation revocation and suspension of sentence.
- Formal or informal meeting with the offender to emphasize the importance of not violating probation.
- Modification of the probation or suspension of sentence, which may include a short amount of time behind bars, not to exceed 90 days in county jail, a Department of Corrections facility or work release facility.
Probation and Technical Violations
When someone violates a probation sentence, they may not do it intentionally – not every violation involves criminal charges. An offender may incur a violation by reporting late, not finding a job or failing to pass a test for drugs or alcohol. A violation that occurs in a way other than committing a crime is a "technical" violation, and it can still result in serious consequences for the offender.
A probation officer can punish an offender who violates probation on a technicality with up to three days in jail in Alabama. This is informally known as a "dip." However, the probation officer can also ask the court to give the offender a more serious penalty, such as a maximum of 45 days in jail, which is informally known as a "dunk."
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.