What is probation? Well, here is what it is NOT. It is NOT jail, it is NOT pre-trial diversion and it is NOT a “slap on the wrists”, i.e. it is more than a fine. Probation is the court saying, “Well, we are going to keep an eye on you.” You will report once a month, you will keep a probation officer posted as to your residence and your employment, you will get treatment, you will pay back restitution and so forth depending upon what you have pleaded to and what has been pronounced as the terms and condition of your particular probation. In other words, the court is supervising you through the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in the case of a misdemeanor and the Department of Corrections in the case of a felony. (Formerly misdemeanor probation used to be supervised by the Salvation Army but that changed recently.)
There are the types of probation where you do not have do much other than stay out of trouble; there are other sorts of probation, like drug and sex offender probation, where you fulfill and observe many obligations and restrictions. The biggest “no-no” on probation is to be arrested or even suspected of wrongdoing. And, do not anger or provoke your probation officer; keep them apprised of your living situation and working status. Money is part of probation, (perhaps the biggest) you have to pay many costs and fines. You see, the criminal justice system in addition to punishing crime also happens to be in the business of collecting money; it routinely bleeds the wallets and bank accounts of the criminally accused and convicted. Crime does not pay and it certainly does cost. Also –technically- you are not supposed to consume “inebriants”. i.e. marijuana, alcohol or pills. While it is not necessarily assured that a probation officer is going to subject you to a drug test, it is usually grounds for violation if you happened to be found to have used.
If you run afoul of this, you have to return to court on what is called a Violation of Probation. The judge can re-instate you, revoke you, terminate you unsuccessfully and sentence to you jail. You are entitled to an “Evidentiary Hearing” before a Judge where the State must show by a preponderance of evidence or enough to satisfy the “conscience of the court” that the alleged violation of probation is “willful and substantial”.
Probation VS. PTI
PTI stands for Pre-Trial Intervention. It is also known by the following terms: diversion (generically and synonymously); deferred prosecution (in California); plea in escrow or accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD-Pennsylvania). If the criminal justice process is thought of as an assembly line, think of these programs as ones that remove your case from the conveyor belt. You comply with what is required, you no longer go to Court, and eventually the charge is dropped. PTI is like probation and is often referred to as probation but it is fundamentally different in that probation follows a plea and PTI precedes it. Violate probation and you usually go to jail on a VOP, violate PTI and you get back on the assembly line and you go back to court. Probation is between you and the Court; PTI is between you and the State Attorney. PTI can be subject to the approval of the victim, especially in a theft case involving the need to pay back money (restitution). PTI is this do probation–type “stuff” up front and the case gets dropped, dismissed. You do not plead to a charge. For a cleaner disposition of your case, PTI is inarguably better than probation.
Joseph T. Hobson is a Criminal Defense attorney specializing in DUI charges in Clearwater, Florida.