Probation is often a part of a defendant’s sentence. In California, the probation terms and conditions vary depending on which probation is ordered. A formal probation requires the defendant to meet with an assigned probation officer on a regular basis. This is the standard for felony cases and for more serious misdemeanor cases. In addition to reporting to your probation officer, the court will set other conditions. For example, if it is a drug-related offense-drug program (in-patient or out-patient) is ordered. Additionally, fines, community service, victim restitution, electronic monitoring or other pertinent “punishment” the court or the prosecutor deems fair and just.
An informal probation does not require a defendant to meet with his/her probation officer, only to obey all laws and to complete the terms and conditions set forth by the court.
Probation is generally set for 3 years, but could last for up to 5 years. Probation is not to be taken lightly. It is not a joking matter. Unlike the underlying offense, the court (the judge) makes all the decisions. The prosecutor can argue against the court’s ruling but the judge has the final say. I had a case recently where my client was represented by a Public Defender (“PD”) in his probation violation.
The PD was assigned to him while he was in front of the judge. My client failed to complete the community service and pay all the fines within the time period. The PD did not thoroughly explain that my client worked 24 hour days as a caregiver for a terminally ill patient and was extremely committed to insuring that his welfare was of the utmost importance (at his expense of not being able to complete the required community service). The judge wanted to sentence him for at extensive period of time in jail. My client requested a continuance and retained me for the probation violation hearing.
I immediately requested that he provide me letters from his employers, the community service organization that he was volunteering, and other letters, to indicate why he was unable to complete the court requirements. I provided all these letters of character to the judge and the prosecutor during our chamber conference and the judge was “enlightened” to his work schedule and his dedication in successfully completing his probation.
The meeting in the judge’s chamber allowed me to be advice the judge of all the reasons for my client’s inability to complete the conditions of his probation in a timely manner. It also enabled me to explain to him that my client was not taking his probation for granted but was very serious and committed to completing the courtordered terms.
The court exemplified in Lohan’s case does not like it when a defendant comes in at a due date without completing the terms imposed for probation. Probation does not have to be granted—it is a way for the court to give the defendant a second chance. As such, if this second chance is not taken seriously, then the “hammer goes down.”
It is not clear whether mitigation letters were provided to Judge Ravel in Lohan’s case to show why she was unable to complete her alcohol programs. But what is clear is that the judge was not amused with Lohan’s disregard of the court and such disrespect has grave consequences.