Probation allows a convicted defendant to avoid some jail time, so most of those convicted of crimes are happy to hear that word in the judge's sentence. But don't be complacent about it. You are better off thinking of probation as a contract rather than a gift, since there are a lot of strings attached.
Probation Is Always Conditional
You should never mistake probation for a "get out of jail free" card. By its very nature, probation carries conditions. It's a conditional release from jail, or a conditional substitute for jail. You don't have to serve a certain amount of your jail sentence behind bars, if you comply with those conditions. Often, one of the conditions of probation is supervision, that is to say, regular check-ins with your probation officer.
Another typical condition of probation is to obey all laws. It's important to keep this in mind since a person on probation who is arrested on even a minor charge may be sent to jail for both the current arrest and the probation violation.
Read More: Probation Vs. Conviction
Emergencies Excuse a Missed Appointment
The frequency with which you are obligated to check in with your probation officers depends on the conviction and your criminal history. You could be ordered to report every week, or it could be every month. While these meetings differ from state to state and even between individual probation officers, usually the officer reviews your progress, checks your address and employment status and often administers a drug and alcohol test. The person's job is to make sure that you are staying out of trouble. If you miss a scheduled appointment, the officer can file a probation violation with the court.
While missing a meeting with your probation officer is considered a violation of probation, it won't necessarily send you to jail. The issue is why you missed the appointment. Obviously, emergencies can excuse a missed meeting, even for those on probation. If you or a family member suffers a medical emergency and you call the probation officer, you will likely be excused. Likewise, if you have an emergency while on your way to the appointment, you may be excused even without prior notice. For example, if you are run over by a truck crossing the street in front of the probation office, the police and ambulance reports should be sufficient to let you avoid legal repercussions.
Other Absences May Return You to Jail
On the other hand, it is up to the probation officer to decide whether the missed appointment should be reported to the court. If the officer does not consider your excuse valid, you will likely be called to the court for a probation revocation hearing. At that hearing, the court will decide what to do. It may:
- Admonish you but continue your probation with no change.
- Continue but with modifications, such as more frequent meetings with your probation officer.
- Revoke your probation and order you to serve some, or all, of your suspended sentence in jail.
If you have been released from jail on supervised probation, you'll have to attend scheduled appointments with your probation officer. Failing to comply with a condition of probation, including missing a probation appointment, can land you back in jail.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.