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Probation: Is it just a 'get out of jail free' card?

People who are charged with a crime may be eligible for probation, especially if it's a person's first offense. Probation replaces some or all of a jail sentence that would have otherwise been imposed, so it is typically something to fight for if you are facing criminal charges.

However, receiving a sentence of probation is not something you should take lightly. While it can be a much more attractive option than spending weeks, months or years behind bars, there are several reasons why probation is not simply a "get out of jail free" card.

Strict conditions and restrictions

Probation comes with numerous restrictions. Depending on the type of probation you receive, you may be required to:

  • Obtain or maintain employment
  • Stay away from certain places or people
  • Meet with a probation officer regularly
  • Refrain from committing any criminal offenses
  • Attend treatment programs
  • Pay restitution
  • Stay in a specified place
  • Release your online user names to law enforcement agents
  • Refrain from using any drugs or alcohol
  • Submit to random drug or alcohol testing
  • Give up and refrain from owning any firearms
  • Wear an ankle monitor and be confined to your home

In some cases, there can be so many conditions that are difficult to comply with that people still feel as though they are imprisoned.

Serious penalties

If you violate the conditions of your probation - or even if you are accused of violating the terms - then you could face harsher penalties than those you were facing for your original offense.

Penalties can include:

  • Revocation of probation
  • Extension of probation
  • Additional conditions
  • Jail time (for both the probation violation and for the original offense)

Being prepared can help you successfully complete probation

If you understand that probation is still a sentence to be taken seriously, you can avoid costly missteps that could jeopardize your future. Should you have any questions or concerns about probation, the terms of probation or penalties for violations, you can consult your attorney to discuss them specifically.

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