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What Is Probation?

By Daniel T. Geherin

People involved in the criminal justice system sometimes take for granted that everyone knows the terminology and lingo that get thrown around: Prison vs. Jail; Pretrial Conference vs. Arraignment; Probation vs. Parole. But, for clients who find themselves in the system for the first time (say for a drunk driving arrest, or for a drug-possession charge, or retail fraud case), they may not inherently understand all the concepts.

Dan Geherin, owner of the Geherin Law Group PLLC (GLGMichigan) in Ann Arbor, is an ex-prosecutor and board-certified criminal trial attorney who only handles cases with a criminal justice element. As part of this practice, GLG handles hundreds of criminal defense cases each year. In many of these cases, clients end up on probation. And, that's when the questions begin:

  • "What does it mean to probation?"
  • "What will I have to do on probation?"
  • "What happens if I violate probation?"
  • "How long will I be on probation?"

For most criminal charges, a guilty plea or conviction often ends up with a sentence including "probation." This means that the defendant will be "watched over" for a period of time to make sure he/she is compliant with what the judge orders. So, if a judge orders a drunk-driving defendant to complete alcohol counseling, testing, and 40 hours of community service, the defendant will often have a period of time to prove he/she can do exactly what the judge orders. While probation is typically in lieu of jail, sometimes the judge will order a probationary period to include a jail sentence. In fact, for some felony offenses, a defendant might serve a full year in jail prior to completing 2-3 years of probation. Other times, a judge will suspend jail time upon successful completion of probation.

Probation can be formal and include reporting to an agent (i.e., Reporting Probation), or it can be informal and not include reporting (i.e., Non-Reporting Probation). If the defendant is sentenced to Reporting Probation, he/she will often meet with a Probation Agent (an employee of the State or County/City where the offense occurred) on a periodic basis. The Agent will often provide forms for a client to complete and ask the client to sign releases so that treatment/counseling/testing records can be sent directly to the probation department. Probation on a misdemeanors generally lasts 6 months to 2 years; felony probation is typically longer, 2-3 years on average. Some felony cases (like capital offenses) are ineligible for probation and require prison; other felonies (like Stalking and Sex Crimes) often require up to 5 years of probation. People sometimes get discharged early for compliance.

Sometimes, probation is the required vehicle for a charge reduction or dismissal. For example, young offenders are often given a chance to have their charges dismissed if they complete probation. Likewise, first-offenders often get a "delayed probation" (pursuant to MCL 777.1) where the charge(s) will be dismissed after they successfully complete probation.

On the flip side, a violation of probation is often earth-shattering. Judges can revoke a person's probation and sentence him to the maximum jail or prison sentence (and perhaps enter the conviction if under a deferred sentence). Judges can reinstate probation and impose some incarceration. Or, best-case scenario, judges can issue a warning and reinstate probation. What constitutes a violation? Failure to do the things the judge ordered, doing what the judge prohibited, or being arrested for a new criminal offense while on probation. Those people who are charged with a probation violation (often called a Show-Cause), definitely should consider contacting an attorney.

For any criminal case in Ann Arbor or throughout Washtenaw County, please contact Dan Geherin and his firm at GLG Michigan. We're available 24/7, and we will put our 25+ years criminal justice experience to work in protecting your interests. Contact Us, or call 24/7 (734) 263-2780.

"I have had limited interface with the legal system previously, but what I had prior to Dan was largely negative. Dan was completely opposite. He took time to explain what was happening, was willing to answer my questions, and helped me clearly navigate through the legal process. Certainly happy and beyond satisfied with my choice of hiring him as an attorney." - Spencer H.

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GLG Michigan: Handling criminal cases throughout Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Southeastern Michigan.

 What Is Probation?