Probation is usually a substitute for jail or prison. Unlike parole, it is an alternative to confinement rather than a release into the community following confinement. Judges do not have to grant probation if they feel that the defendant belongs in confinement.
Probation lasts for a certain period, as determined by the judge. A judge will impose certain conditions of probation, violation of which might result in jail time or other penalties. Fortunately, under certain circumstances, a judge has the discretion to shorten the length of probation during the probationary period.
Am I Even Eligible for Probation?
Under Kentucky law, you are ineligible for probation if your offense involves the use of a deadly weapon. That is true even if you merely brandish a weapon (you pull a gun on someone but don’t fire it, for example).
The only exception is using a weapon in certain cases of domestic violence where the victim, although guilty of a crime, did not act completely without justification.
What Is the Maximum Length of Probation?
Kentucky law sets a time limit on the maximum duration of probation::
- For a felony: Five years, or as long as it takes the defendant to complete restitution to the victim, whichever is longer.
- For a misdemeanor: Two years, or as long as it takes the defendant to complete restitution to the victim, whichever is longer.
This time limit includes any extensions imposed by the judge.
What Are the Conditions of Probation?
Conditions of probation vary from person to person, and compliance can be difficult. Following are some examples of typical conditions of probation:
- You must meet with your probation officer periodically. How often is up to your probation officer.
- You must not use or possess any illegal drugs during your period of probation. The state will test you for drugs at least three times during your probation period. A positive result could get your probation canceled, and you might also face criminal charges.
- You must report any new charges to your officer. This includes everything from criminal charges to traffic tickets. Failure to report an arrest or charge is an offense in itself.
- You cannot commit another crime while on probation. Doing so will result in double trouble—the penalty for the crime itself and the penalty for the probation violation.
- You might have to participate in anger management or domestic violence classes, depending on the nature of your offense.
- You may have to complete a substance abuse course.
The judge or your probation officer may impose other conditions upon you. Make sure that you understand them and don’t violate any of them.
What Are the Penalties for Violating Your Conditions of Probation?
If you violate any of the conditions of your probation, you could face one or more of the following penalties:
- Extension of the period of probation, subject to the limits stated above.
- Modification of your terms of probation so that they severely restrict your lifestyle.
- A certain number of hours of community service.
- The imposition of new treatment program requirements, which you must pay for.
- The imposition of new rehabilitation programs and classes, which you must pay for.
- Mandatory counseling.
- Jail time.
Remember that some probation violations are also independent violations of the law that can result in additional penalties. Remember that you are not entitled to a jury trial for a probation violation. Consistently violating the terms of your probation could put you on a merry-go-round that could prove extremely difficult to exit.
More Bad News: The Burden of Proof
In an ordinary criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not so with a probation violation. All the prosecution needs to do is prove your guilt by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means enough evidence to prove that you are more likely than not to violate the terms of your probation.
Early Termination of Probation
Early termination of probation in Kentucky is always at the discretion of the judge and your probation officer. In other words, you are not entitled to early termination no matter how well you comply with the terms of probation. If your probation was the result of a favorable plea bargain, you might find early termination difficult. The judge might believe that you already received a lenient sentence and see you as now requesting further leniency.
Nevertheless, probation resources are strained. Many people are on probation, and probation officers tend to have very busy schedules. This alone might increase your chances of early termination of probation. To apply for early termination of probation, you must wait for a scheduled evaluation of your progress and convince your probation officer to apply on your behalf.
The preliminary requirements for early termination of probation include:
- Complete at least 18 months of your probation period;
- Have no violations of your probation conditions over the last 12 months;
- Pay off all of your restitution obligations;
- Pay off 90% of all lump sum payment obligations;
- Not be more than one payment behind on any periodic payment obligations;
- Complete all court-ordered rehabilitation programs such as substance abuse classes;
- Fulfill all the objectives of your case management plan (see above);
- Have no new arrests;
- Have a lower “risk and needs” assessment, as determined by your probation officer’s evaluation.
It bears repeating that meeting these conditions does not entitle you to early termination of probation. All it does is render you eligible.
Petition to the Court
Your probation officer will write a recommendation letter to the court describing:
- Your compliance with the terms of probation;
- Information relating to your completion of any special conditions ordered by the court;
- Any other relevant information; and
- A recommendation for the early termination of your probation.
After that, it is all up to the judge.
You Deserve Legal Representation
No ethical lawyer will guarantee the result in a particular case. Nevertheless, your chances of receiving early termination of probation are much better if you hire a lawyer to represent you. With so much at stake, hiring a lawyer may be the best move you can make.