If convicted for common legal violations, like illegally possessing drugs, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, simple assault, theft, or shoplifting, you may be eligible for probation, an alternative to incarceration. Since criminal activity involving drugs, stealing, fraud, disruptive behavior, and many others are charged as petty and disorderly persons offenses, third degree crimes, and fourth degree offenses, the prosecutor and the judge may agree to sentence a defendant to probation. Thus, an individual charged with violating criminal laws prohibiting a variety of conduct may be able to avoid jail or prison time in New Jersey.
What is Probation in New Jersey?
Probation does not mean getting off scot-free, nor does it mean parole, which is a supervised post-imprisonment term. Probation is a term of supervised punishment, just as a prison term is, but on probation, a convicted offender can remain outside of jail where they can follow certain rules, as well as perhaps enroll in rehabilitative programs and educational courses. Probation officers regularly check to make sure they are following their probation requirements. Those on probation must submit to the strict rules and restrictions imposed by a sentencing judge to stay on probation. Otherwise, probation violations lead to longer probation or prison.
Charged with a Criminal Offense, Am I Eligible for Probation?
That depends. Probation decisions are incredibly fact-specific and also bound by certain sentencing mandates and requirements under New Jersey law. If charged with a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense, probation can absolutely be on the table, as a jail sentence is not mandatory by any means. Third and fourth-degree crimes do not have presumptions of incarceration, so probation may be a viable option. Nevertheless, a sentencing judge may order a prison term in some cases if deemed appropriate. If the crime is a first or second-degree crime, the law presumes incarceration is the sentence. And although first and second-degree crimes come with the incarceration presumption, a judge can consider the defendant and their circumstances to order probation for a second degree offense.
For example, a young, uneducated defendant with no criminal history who naively got caught up in a friend’s drug operation may convince a judge to forego the presumption and allow probation. The defendant’s criminal record or lack thereof is always important, as is the type of offense for which they are charged. Probation can be especially compelling as an alternative as well if the defendant shows genuine remorse. A sentencing judge may determine that, under the circumstances, and given the age, inexperience, and ignorance of the defendant, it would be a grave injustice for the defendant to be imprisoned. Rather, the defendant is better off on probation than in prison, which allows them to maintain their job and life in the community.
Keep in mind, however, that a prosecutor is not necessarily going to advocate for probation. A defendant should have a criminal defense attorney to show the judge why the incarceration presumption or prison sentence should not apply by presenting rebuttal evidence of the defendant’s mitigating circumstances. When you need an attorney after arrest, for pre-trial and trial proceedings, to negotiate with the prosecutor for probation in your case, or to argue for a lesser sentence at a sentencing hearing, you should choose a legal defense counselor whom you feel comfortable can skillfully represent you. You will need someone who knows the law and the best methods for handling your case. The criminal lawyers at our firm can help. Contact us by sending a message or calling (908) 838-0150 for immediate assistance.
New Jersey Probation Rules and Restrictions
If sentenced to probation, the defendant must meet with their probation officer regularly, agree to frequent searches, and submit to random trust tests. Depending on the terms of probation, they may have to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet, perform community service, and even attend drug, alcohol, or anger management classes. And as an ongoing condition of remaining outside prison or jail, they must not commit a crime, leave a confined geographic area, or have a gun. Violating any of the probation terms could result in a hearing before a judge, and the defendant must appear. If they do not appear, a judge can issue a warrant for their arrest.
Since the probation officer oversees a probationer’s program or plan, they are the ones who file a complaint upon learning of a probationer’s violation. So, if the accused violator leaves the state against the terms of probation, a probation officer can file a violation of probation complaint with the superior court. The complaint includes the facts detailing which probation term the defendant violated and how they violated the term. After filing the complaint, the judge decides if the probationer violated probation, and if so, what the sentence should be, longer probation or a prison term. The judge can decide after a hearing unless the accused admits they violated probation. It is advisable to defend your probation case with the help of an attorney who faces down the court prosecutor.
Why You do not want to Break the Rules if You are given Probation for Criminal Charges
If the judge decides for the prosecution and you get violated on probation, they can continue the existing probation, impose a longer probation period (probation must be between one and five years), write new restrictions into the probation plan, or revise the sentence altogether, most likely sentencing the person to prison or jail. So, even if a judge sentenced the defendant to probation pursuant to a plea bargain agreement, that agreement is no longer valid when a probation violation is determined to have occurred. A judge can go back to the crime for which probation was ordered and sentence the defendant for that crime. The NJ criminal statutes dictate the range of prison and fines associated with crimes and offenses. For example, charges for resisting arrest, eluding a police officer, aggravated assault, burglary, unlawful possession of a weapon, and cocaine possession all have their own prison time attached.
Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help You Obtain Probation Instead of Jail in Union NJ
Upon your arrest, you want someone who can protect you against law enforcement and prosecutors that do not have your interests in mind when they question you or offer you deals that may not be best for you. Allow our criminal attorneys to fight the prosecution’s case, challenging evidence, including cross-examining evidence. At sentencing or a probation violation hearing, we can present the most sympathetic picture of you, your life, and circumstances leading to and surrounding the charges against you or probation violation. You want the judge or jury to accept your version of who you are over the prosecutor’s, whose job it is to paint you in the worst possible light. Do not take a chance going up against the state on your own. Let us serve as your defense guide and partner. Contact (908) 838-0150 to reach our Cranford law office, where an attorney is available to assist you free of charge.