What is felony probation?

Felony probation is a probation program designed for severe offenses. As such, felony probations are structured and supervised more intensely. Before a defendant accepts a felony probation, he should understand what is expected while on a felony probation.

Felony Probation Objectives

Felony probation is what the name implies: a defendant on probation for a felony level offense. Instead of having to serve time in prison, a defendant’s sentence is suspended or deferred and he is placed on probation. As long as the defendant complies with all of the conditions, he will not have to serve the prison sentence. Similar to a misdemeanor probation, felony probation usually requires a defendant to report periodically to a probation officer, pay a fine, pay court costs, pay any restitution due, complete any required community service hours, and commit no new offenses while on probation. Even though the general guidelines are the same, the intent and intensity are different for a felony probation.

Because felony probations address more serious charges, the motive or intent of a felony probation is more than just the collection of a fine or revenue for a county. The intent of a felony probation usually focuses on prevention and rehabilitation. The idea is that if sufficient boundaries are set and a defendant is rehabilitated, then the community is safer and benefits from a more productive member of society. To accomplish these objectives, felony probations are stricter than lower level probations.

Restrictions of Felony Probation

A felony probation is more intense than a misdemeanor or traffic probation. Fines and hours of community service ordered in felony probations are usually higher than those of misdemeanor probations. A defendant is usually required to report at least once per month to a probation officer. If the felony charge is more serious, then a defendant could be placed on intensive supervision which would entail weekly meetings with a probation officer and electronic monitoring. A felony offender is also evaluated for any programs which could assist in rehabilitation. Programs could include counseling for anger issues, sex offender counseling, life skills courses, and drug/alcohol rehab programs.

Even though misdemeanor probations offer similar programs, they tend to be far more limited than felony programs because misdemeanor probations are shorter in duration, ranging from six months to two years. Because felony probations usually involve long-term rehab objectives, they are longer, ranging from two to ten years, depending on the severity of the offense. Most misdemeanor programs will be on an out-patient basis. Some felony programs can include periods of in-patient commitments.

For example, Texas has a SAFP program wherein a defendant is committed to a facility and is not allowed to leave until successfully completing the drug or alcohol counseling program. If the court feels that a defendant is not working hard enough towards his rehab programs, the court can also order a defendant to serve periods of incarceration in a county jail as a condition of probation. These periods of incarceration are usually called sanctions, but are informally referred to a jail therapy. Sanctions are designed to remind a defendant of what awaits if he does not successfully comply with the probation conditions. Even though a defendant’s prison sentence is suspended, he should understand that the court may confine him through other means.

Shock Probation

In addition to periods of confinement for rehab or sanctions, some states utilize a felony probation program called shock probation. Instead of immediately placing a defendant on probation, the court will sentence a defendant to serve a period of confinement in prison and then order him to actually be sent to prison. If the defendant does well while in prison, he is brought back before the court within a certain period of time and is then placed on a regular felony probation. The concept is to shock the defendant with the reality of prison time so that he will be motivated to perform well while on probation. If a defendant fails to comply with the terms of probation, he is returned to prison to complete the balance of the sentence.