New Jersey Probation: The Basics
So You have been Charged with a Crime in New Jersey, Could Probation be an Option for Your Case?
Anytime a person is charged with a crime in New Jersey, they have to be worried that they will be required to serve time in jail or prison. This is especially true when the person has been charged with a felony for drug distribution, aggravated assault, a weapons offense, or some other serious criminal offense. In those types of cases, prosecutors often seek penalties that may include significant prison time. In certain situations, however, a defendant who has been convicted of a crime may still be able to avoid incarceration when the judge sentences the defendant to probation. This would allow the defendant to remain free so that they can continue living their life, earning an income, and providing for their family. Receiving a probationary sentence instead of a prison sentence can be truly life-changing, which is why it is so important to have a solid understanding of the types of probation in New Jersey, what goes into a probationary sentence, and whether probation may be an option for resolving your criminal case and staying out of jail. To learn more about probation in the NJ criminal justice system, keep reading this article.
If you would like to talk through the specifics of your criminal matter and your potential options, contact the Edison, NJ Law Office of Proetta & Oliver to receive immediate assistance from a dedicated criminal defense lawyer. We practice criminal defense throughout Middlesex County and New Jersey and an attorney on our talented team is always available to provide you with cost-free consultation. Call (732) 659-9600 now.
What is Probation?
Some people like to think of probation as a conditional reprieve from jail time, but it might be helpful to think of probation as a sentencing alternative for judges who have to make a tough decision about whether to impose a jail sentence in the first place. Let’s assume for the moment that you are unlikely to be acquitted or found “not guilty” at trial in your criminal matter, and the sentencing guidelines allow the judge to sentence you to considerable time behind bars if you are convicted. However, those same sentencing guidelines also give the prosecutor and the judge a great deal of flexibility so that they can allow you to remain free, with certain restrictions, instead of being sentenced to jail. Now consider which option you would prefer.
Judges in New Jersey have statutory authority to place a defendant on probation, and the law also allows judges to alter the conditions of probation at any time. Importantly, some of the most serious criminal offenses have a presumption of incarceration and carry minimum mandatory sentences, and this can limit the judge’s ability to issue a probationary sentence. To get probation for a crime with a prison presumption, like a second degree felony for instance, you need to have an extremely knowledgeable and skilled criminal defense attorney who can present the most compelling arguments on your behalf. Securing this outstanding outcome can be done, but generally not without an experienced criminal lawyer in your corner. In most other cases, however, the judge can suspend the sentence and place the defendant on probation. For example, instead of serving 18 months in jail for a shoplifting conviction, you would be placed on probation for a period of 18 months. The minimum period of probation allowed by law is one (1) year, and the maximum period is five (5) years.
What are the Different Types of Probation in NJ?
There are two main types of probation in NJ: Supervised Probation and Unsupervised Probation.
Most criminal cases that conclude with a probationary sentence involve supervised probation. This is especially true for anyone who is convicted or pleads guilty to an indictable charge in Superior Court. Anyone who is given probation should expect to be heavily supervised by a probation officer, with a number of conditions that must be met by the convicted individual. The most common conditions of supervised probation include the following:
- Regular meetings with a probation officer to provide status updates.
- Random visits by a probation officer to the offender’s residence, workplace, or school.
- Avoiding arrests and/or criminal charges for any other offenses.
- Paying all court-ordered fines.
- Random drug and alcohol testing.
- Participation in alcohol, drug, anger management, and/or mental health counseling.
- Maintaining a job.
- Attendance at school in lieu of work.
- Can’t own a handgun or other firearm.
- Must promptly report if you move or otherwise change your home address.
- Must receive permission to travel or leave the state.
- Wearing an electronic monitoring device.
Failure to comply with any of the requirements of supervised probation could result in the offender being cited by their probation officer for violation of probation, resulting in a VOP hearing. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, the offender could have their period of probation extended, or they could even have their probation revoked entirely and be ordered to serve the rest of their sentence in prison.
Although the vast majority of probationary sentences are issued with supervision required, there are occasions when judges allow for unsupervised probation. These cases usually occur at the local Municipal Court level, where less serious charges for disorderly persons offenses are handled. It’s also possible for a person admitted into the Drug Court program or the Pre-Trial Intervention program to get probation that is unsupervised, or that at least has less stringent requirements than typical probation. For example, an offender on unsupervised probation might not be subject to random visits from a probation officer or drug and alcohol testing. However, it may still be necessary for the offender to check in with the court and provide status updates, or the court could allow the offender to provide updates via mail.
Special Probation for Drug Offenses
For a person charged with a drug crime, there are often alternative sentencing options that allow that person to avoid incarceration. For instance, someone charged with a less serious drug possession offense might be eligible for Drug Court, which is a special court that emphasizes recovery and treatment from addiction. When a defendant is admitted into Drug Court and then successfully completes their treatment during a special probationary period, they are typically able to stay out of jail.
More serious drug crimes, such as distribution offenses involving heroin, cocaine, or prescription drugs, may carry a presumption of incarceration by virtue of being classified as a first or second degree offense. However, even when a defendant is convicted on these types of felony charges, they could still be eligible for a special form of probation if they can show that they need treatment for substance abuse. The court will usually have the defendant undergo an official assessment by a medical professional to determine whether the defendant actually has drug dependency. If the judge in your drug case decides that it would be better for you to receive treatment and counseling than to be sentenced to prison time, you may be given special probation that requires you to enter an in-patient drug treatment facility in lieu of going to prison.
Probation vs. Parole: What’s the Difference?
Probation differs from parole in that probation is part of a defendant’s sentencing, whereas parole is something that happens after sentencing. To be more specific, when an incarcerated individual is released from prison early, they are typically placed on parole. The end result is that the person only winds up serving a portion of their original sentence, and then they are allowed to go free. Eligibility for parole is automatic in most cases after an inmate has served at least one-third of their prison sentence, but there may be instances in which a defendant received a sentence that makes them ineligible for parole. Additionally, parole can be stipulated at sentencing in what is known as a “split sentence.” This occurs when the defendant is sentenced to at least one (1) year in prison while also being sentenced to probation, with the probationary period to immediately follow the prison sentence. In this way, the offender’s total sentence is “split” between incarceration and probation.
If an offender is granted release on parole, whether it’s through standard parole or a split sentence, they must meet certain requirements in order to avoid violating the terms of their parole. The conditions of parole are usually very similar to the conditions of probation: the person on parole must stay out of trouble, meet regularly with a parole officer, pass random drug tests, maintain steady employment, etc. If the offender is cited for a parole violation, it can be extremely difficult to contest the charge at a parole revocation proceeding later because the ultimate decision rests with the judge who will evaluate the facts and determine whether you should be returned to prison to serve the remainder of your original sentence.
How a Criminal Lawyer Can Help You with Probation in Middlesex County, NJ
It is absolutely vital that anyone facing criminal charges in Middlesex County or anywhere else in New Jersey for that matter, have a solid understanding of their rights and options before, during, and after a trial. Sentencing is typically not imposed until after a guilty plea or conviction, but so much occurs prior to that time and depending on the case and the quality of your legal representation, it may not happen at all. Depending on the particular facts and circumstances of your arrest and criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you get probation instead of jail time by reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution in advance of trial and/or helping prepare the most convincing package on you as a good candidate for a probationary sentence. A knowledgeable attorney can also provide invaluable assistance if you have been accused of violating the terms of your probation and must now appear at a probation violation hearing.
All you have to do is find a lawyer who can help ensure you know and pursue all of the best options available to you. Contact our criminal defense firm if you have are looking at probation or wondering if it could be a way to successfully resolve your case. You can reach us online or call (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation.