What is felony probation?

Felony probation is more structured and supervised than misdemeanor probation, often requiring more check-ins with a probation officer and long-term rehabilitation objectives. Defendants will still be required to pay fines, court costs, and restitution as part of their felony probation charges, and community service hours may also be mandatory. Learn more about different types of felony probation below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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

What are the objectives of felony probation?

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 formal probation and will be under the supervision of a probation agent.

As long as the defendant complies with all of the terms of probation, he will not have to serve the prison sentence. Similar to 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, submit to drug testing, complete any required community service hours, and commit no new offenses during the probation period. Even though the general guidelines are the same, the intent and intensity are different for felony probation.

Because felony probations address more serious charges, the motive or intent of felony probation is more than just the collection of a fine or revenue for a county. The intent of felony offender probations 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 have stricter requirements than lower-level probations.

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What are the restrictions of felony probation?

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 probation violation could mean an immediate return to court for a sentencing hearing at which the judge will likely see no alternative to prison. A violation of probation is very serious and all of the conditions of probation must be met to avoid revocation of probation for a felony offense.

A felony offender is also evaluated for any programs which could assist in rehabilitation by providing an opportunity for education or treatment programs. 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 an 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 county jail as a condition of probation.

These periods of incarceration are usually called sanctions but are informally referred to as 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.

What is 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 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 will be charged with violation of probation and can be returned to prison to complete the balance of the sentence.

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