What is shock probation?

Shock probation is a sentencing strategy offered in some jurisdictions to shock or introduce young offenders to the long-term realities of a criminal career through a short-term visit to prison. The concept behind shock probation is to shock a defendant into not committing another crime with the reality of incarceration.

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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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Shock probation is a sentencing strategy offered in some jurisdictions to “shock” or introduce young defendants to the long-term realities of a criminal career through a short-term prison stays. Even though shock probation is only offered by a few states, it can be an extremely helpful alternative to a regular prison sentence.

What is shock probation?

The concept behind shock probation is to confront youthful or low-level criminal offenders with the consequences of their actions. Typically, they are first-time offenders.

Even though it is structurally very similar to split sentences, the requirements of shock probation are distinctly different. Like a split sentence, a defendant is sentenced to a period of confinement. Unlike a split sentence, however, a defendant serves a much shorter period of time. After being sentenced, a defendant must make a motion to be brought back to the original trial court to be placed on probation. This motion and the hearing on the motion must occur within a relatively short time after the defendant is sentenced and sent to prison, usually around six months. Failure to file a motion in a timely manner can result in a forfeiture of the right to request shock probation.

After receiving a timely filed motion, the prison authorities are required to submit a report to the trial court telling the court whether or not the defendant was compliant during their prison stay. Good behavior will improve a defendant’s chance of receiving shock probation. The court can either deny the motion (thereby ordering the defendant to complete the balance of the sentence), or grant the motion and place a defendant on straight probation. The decision to grant a shock probation motion is completely within the trial court’s discretion– as long as the defendant is otherwise eligible to receive shock probation.

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Who is eligible for shock probation?

Only certain defendants can qualify for shock probation. A defendant should talk to their criminal defense attorney about their unique situation before requesting this route. It is designed to assist first-time or early career offenders. A defendant being prosecuted under a career offender statute would not be eligible. A defendant who had previously received a deferred sentence that did not result in a final conviction could be eligible on a minor criminal offense with a sympathetic judge.

The idea is that if a defendant knows and gets an opportunity to feel the eventual consequences of a crime, then he will be deterred from committing future crimes. Offenders who are already living a life of crime have already faced the consequences and continue to offend. Offenses that would qualify for shock probation include drug, theft, and forgery type offenses. Shock probation is not available for violent offenses like aggravated sexual assault or aggravated robbery.

What are the advantages of shock probation?

The first major advantage of this legal sentencing alternative is that the defendant is released from prison after a relatively short time in lockup. However, a defendant doesn’t simply get to walk out unfettered. After a motion for shock is granted, a defendant will be expected to understand and follow all of the rules of regular probation. If a defendant does not follow the rules, he is returned to prison to serve the remainder of the sentence behind bars. If a sentencing judge does not feel the defendant will benefit, they can deny the request.

The second major advantage of shock probation is the effect of the judgment on future enhancements. For example, in Texas, because the effect of a grant of shock probation is to suspend the sentences, the judgment will not be considered a final conviction for enhancement purposes later.

However, one of the drawbacks is that it will prevent a defendant from later making an application for community supervision in a subsequent prosecution.

Shock probation has some definite advantages for some individuals. However, a defendant should also consider his likely success while on probation and current parole standards. On a low sentence, a defendant could potentially be released on parole in the same amount of time it takes to get a motion for shock probation granted. Depending on the level of supervision in a particular jurisdiction, a defendant may find complying with parole rules easier than complying with the conditions and requirements of community supervision.

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