Probation Rules in Ohio

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When a person is convicted of a criminal offense, the judge can sentence them to prison and/or grant them a probation term, supervised by a probation officer. In Ohio, courts refer to probation as “community control,” since the offender is permitted to live in the community rather than go to jail.

Anyone granted community control in Ohio must follow the rules and procedures that come with probation. These restrictions are intended to motivate the offender to return to a law-abiding life. Failing to meet the set probation conditions has consequences, and, in Ohio, they are fairly serious, sometimes returning the offender to prison.

What Is Probation?

Probation has become an important tool in the judicial system of all states. While in earlier days, those convicted of a crime had to serve some jail time, it was subsequently determined that prison is not appropriate punishment for every offender for every crime.

This happened in Ohio in 1974, when the criminal code statutes were revised. Before then, no judgment could be entered in a criminal case without imposing a jail sentence.

Under Ohio law, probation is called community control and is intended to assist convicts to overcome the challenges that led them into the criminal justice system. What exactly is community control? Think of it as a type of binding contract: the judicial system agrees not to put a convict in jail or prison if they abide by the terms set out for their probation.

When Probation Begins and Ends

Probation begins when ordered by the court; it ends when the convict completes the probation period assigned by the court or when they violate the terms of probation, and it is revoked.

Overview of Probation in Ohio

Ohio offers judges several options that allow for some type of probation. These are generally offered in both felony and misdemeanor cases, although unsupervised probation is generally limited to misdemeanor cases. The various options are:

  • Formal probation.
  • Split sentencing.
  • Fine suspension.
  • Shock probation.
  • Unsupervised probation.

With formal or standard probation, the court that reviews the case of a convicted defendant imposes a prison or jail sentence, then suspends the execution of sentence. This allows offenders to remain free as long as they abide by the probation rules.

Split Sentencing, Fine Suspension and Shock Probation

Split sentencing is the same, but with a special condition imposed, generally a set amount of incarceration time. This is usually six months or less in a county jail.

Fine suspension in Ohio does not necessarily look like standard probation. The court suspends all or part of a fine but doesn't place the offender on formal probation.

Under shock probation the judge orders probation after the offender has been sent to jail or prison and has served some time, usually months. This time spent in jail is expected to "shock" the offender into behaving well on probation.

What Is Unsupervised Probation?

Unsupervised probation in Ohio is exactly what it sounds like: the person does not need to report to a probation officer while they are on probation. That means that nobody is assigned to monitor the offender to determine whether they are staying out of trouble. It is usually the type of probation a defendant prefers, if possible.

Factors to Consider When Granting Unsupervised Probation

Obviously, unsupervised probation is ordered by the court only if the judge feels quite certain that the offender will stay out of trouble. There are a number of factors the court considers when deciding whether to order unsupervised probation as a sentence. These include:

  • Type and severity of the offender's crime.
  • Whether this is a first offense or a repeated offense.
  • Support system, including whether living conditions are stable.
  • Whether the offender currently holds a job or is in school.
  • Sentence suggested by prosecutor and probation officers.
  • Relevant statements offered by the offender's victim regarding the crime.
  • Defendant's statements in court or defense attorney's arguments.

A judge that grants unsupervised probation must have a reasonable degree of certainty that the individual has a sufficiently stable life and support structure that they will stay out of trouble. They must appear to be, in general, a productive member of society, in order to avoid being supervised by a probation officer or incarcerated.

Probational Offenders and Offenses in Ohio

In order to grant probation in Ohio, a court must determine whether the defendant is a "probational" offender and whether the offense is a "probational" offense. If either the offender or the offense is "nonprobationable," the court is without authority to grant probation of any type.

What are nonprobational offenders? In Ohio, repeat offenders cannot be granted probation. In addition, some criminal convictions, such as those for murder or rape, are not eligible for probation.

Some Crimes Require Jail Time

The grant of probation depends on whether the criminal statutes require the court to impose a mandatory prison term or a term of life imprisonment upon the offender for their particular offense. If not, the court has authority to impose a sentence that consists of one or more community control sanctions.

This generally applies to all third-, fourth- or fifth-degree felony offenses in Ohio. For third- or fourth-degree felonies, in addition to the mandatory prison term or additional prison term imposed, the court can also impose community control sanctions, but the offender must serve any prison sentence before serving the community control sanction.

Standard Conditions of Probation in Ohio

According to the state of Ohio, there are 65 different probation departments in the state, serving a population of 11,609,756 people in an area of 40,851 square miles. That makes one probation department per 628 square miles.

The court sentencing the offender can impose standard conditions of probation. These terms may vary depending on county probation rules, but many counties share common terms that require the offender to:

  • Obey all laws.
  • Report to a probation officer as ordered, generally once or twice a month.
  • Hold a job.
  • Pay court fees.
  • Complete community service hours.
  • Avoid using illegal drugs.
  • Keep away from the victim.

Standard Conditions for Northern Ohio

In federal court probation in Ohio, standard conditions are either those for the Northern District of Ohio or the Southern District. The standard conditions for Northern Ohio offenders include:

  • Offender must report to the probation office in the federal judicial district where they reside within 72 hours of the release from imprisonment.
  • After reporting to the probation office, offender will follow instructions from the court and/or the probation officer about how and when to report to the probation officer.
  • Offender must not go out of the federal judicial district where they are authorized to reside without first getting approval from the court or probation office.
  • Offender must be truthful when answering questions from their probation officer.
  • Offender must live at a location that has been approved by the probation officer. Any change must be pre-approved by probation officer.
  • Offender must permit the probation officer to visit them at any time, at home or elsewhere, and must permit the officer to take any items in plain view that are prohibited by the conditions of supervision.
  • Offender must work at least 30 hours per week unless the probation officer excuses them. Those without full-time employment must seek it. Any changes in job must be pre-approved by the officer.
  • Offender is not permitted to communicate with anyone engaged in criminal activity or who has been convicted of a felony.
  • If offender is arrested by a law enforcement officer, they must notify the probation officer.
  • Offender must not own, possess or have access to a firearm, ammunition, destructive device or dangerous weapon.
  • Offender cannot agree to act as an informant with a law enforcement agency without first getting the permission of the court.
  • If determined to pose a risk to another person, offender must comply with any request by the probation officer to notify that person about the risk.
  • Offender must follow the instructions of the probation officer related to the conditions of supervision.

Standard Conditions for Southern Ohio

The standard conditions for Southern Ohio districts are similar. However, they also include these additional requirements:

  • Defendant shall support his or her dependents and meet other family responsibilities.
  • Defendant shall refrain from excessive use of alcohol and shall not purchase, possess, use, distribute or administer any controlled substance or any paraphernalia related to any controlled substance, except as prescribed by a physician.
  • Defendant shall not frequent places where controlled substances are illegally sold, used, distributed or administered.

Restriction of Travel

Both federal court districts restrict travel to their own district for the initial 60-day assessment period. After that, travel outside the district is permitted only if the offender is in compliance with all conditions of supervision. Travel outside the country cannot be considered without the consent of the court or the parole commission.

Special Conditions of Probation

Ohio state and federal courts also have the right to impose special conditions of probation. These are tailored to the offender, and the offense and can include victim compensation.

Some common special probation terms in Ohio include completing counseling as directed, submitting to random urinalysis testing, and avoiding work in any field that involves contact with vulnerable people.

Some say that these specialized probation terms are limited only by the imagination of the court and the sentencing judge. However, Ohio courts reviewing probation conditions have held that conditions must not be unreasonable, must not violate a probationer's constitutional rights, and must not be used to circumvent restrictions on court authority.

Probation Violations in Ohio

An offender violates their probation in Ohio when they break any of the terms of community control. In Ohio, these are termed technical violations and include:

  • Skipping or forgetting a check-in with their probation officer.
  • Refusing or being unable to pay court fines or restitution.
  • Refusing to take a drug test.
  • Taking but failing a drug test.
  • Not complying with community service requirements.
  • Traveling outside the state (or district) without permission from the court or probation officer.

Other probation violations can be deliberate actions that result in new criminal charges. These include selling drugs, robbing a store or assaulting a probation officer.

If the offender's probation officer finds that they violated their probation, the officer can ask the court for an arrest warrant. The judge can order the offender held in jail pending a final probation hearing or decline to release the offender on bond.


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