California Penal Code § 1203 PC explains the eligibility and procedures for misdemeanor probation and felony probation. Probation permits defendants convicted of a crime to serve all or some of their sentence out of custody as long as they adhere to various conditions. But violating probation will likely cause the probationer to be remanded to jail or prison.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
1203 PC. (a) As used in this code, “probation” means the suspension of the imposition or execution of a sentence and the order of conditional and revocable release in the community under the supervision of a probation officer. As used in this code, “conditional sentence” means the suspension of the imposition or execution of a sentence and the order of revocable release in the community subject to conditions established by the court without the supervision of a probation officer. It is the intent of the Legislature that both conditional sentence and probation are authorized whenever probation is authorized in any code as a sentencing option for infractions or misdemeanors.
(b)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (j), if a person is convicted of a felony and is eligible for probation, before judgment is pronounced, the court shall immediately refer the matter to a probation officer to investigate and report to the court, at a specified time, upon the circumstances surrounding the crime and the prior history and record of the person, which may be considered either in aggravation or mitigation of the punishment.
(2)(A) The probation officer shall immediately investigate and make a written report to the court containing findings and recommendations, including recommendations as to the granting or denying of probation and the conditions of probation, if granted.
(B) Pursuant to Section 828 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the probation officer shall include in the report any information gathered by a law enforcement agency relating to the taking of the defendant into custody as a minor, which shall be considered for purposes of determining whether adjudications of commissions of crimes as a juvenile warrant a finding that there are circumstances in aggravation pursuant to Section 1170 or to deny probation.
(C) If the person was convicted of an offense that requires that person to register as a sex offender pursuant to Sections 290 to 290.023, inclusive, or if the probation report recommends that registration be ordered at sentencing pursuant to Section 290.006, the probation officer’s report shall include the results of the State-Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders (SARATSO) administered pursuant to Sections 290.04 to 290.06, inclusive, if applicable.
(D) The probation officer may also include in the report recommendations for both of the following:
(i) The amount the defendant should be required to pay as a restitution fine pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1202.4.
(ii) Whether the court shall require, as a condition of probation, restitution to the victim or to the Restitution Fund and the amount thereof.
(E) The report shall be made available to the court and the prosecuting and defense attorneys at least five days, or upon request of the defendant or prosecuting attorney nine days, prior to the time fixed by the court for the hearing and determination of the report, and shall be filed with the clerk of the court as a record in the case at the time of the hearing. The time within which the report shall be made available and filed may be waived by written stipulation of the prosecuting and defense attorneys that is filed with the court or an oral stipulation in open court that is made and entered upon the minutes of the court.
(3) At a time fixed by the court, the court shall hear and determine the application, if one has been made, or, in any case, the suitability of probation in the particular case. At the hearing, the court shall consider any report of the probation officer, including the results of the SARATSO, if applicable, and shall make a statement that it has considered the report, which shall be filed with the clerk of the court as a record in the case. If the court determines that there are circumstances in mitigation of the punishment prescribed by law or that the ends of justice would be served by granting probation to the person, it may place the person on probation. If probation is denied, the clerk of the court shall immediately send a copy of the report to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the prison or other institution to which the person is delivered.
(4) The preparation of the report or the consideration of the report by the court may be waived only by a written stipulation of the prosecuting and defense attorneys that is filed with the court or an oral stipulation in open court that is made and entered upon the minutes of the court, except that a waiver shall not be allowed unless the court consents thereto. However, if the defendant is ultimately sentenced and committed to the state prison, a probation report shall be completed pursuant to Section 1203c.
(c) If a defendant is not represented by an attorney, the court shall order the probation officer who makes the probation report to discuss its contents with the defendant.
(d) If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor, the court may either refer the matter to the probation officer for an investigation and a report or summarily pronounce a conditional sentence. If the person was convicted of an offense that requires that person to register as a sex offender pursuant to Sections 290 to 290.023, inclusive, or if the probation officer recommends that the court, at sentencing, order the offender to register as a sex offender pursuant to Section 290.006, the court shall refer the matter to the probation officer for the purpose of obtaining a report on the results of the State-Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders administered pursuant to Sections 290.04 to 290.06, inclusive, if applicable, which the court shall consider. If the case is not referred to the probation officer, in sentencing the person, the court may consider any information concerning the person that could have been included in a probation report. The court shall inform the person of the information to be considered and permit the person to answer or controvert the information. For this purpose, upon the request of the person, the court shall grant a continuance before the judgment is pronounced.
(e) Except in unusual cases in which the interests of justice would best be served if the person is granted probation, probation shall not be granted to any of the following persons:
(1) Unless the person had a lawful right to carry a deadly weapon, other than a firearm, at the time of the perpetration of the crime or the person’s arrest, any person who has been convicted of arson, robbery, carjacking, burglary, burglary with explosives, rape with force or violence, torture, aggravated mayhem, murder, attempt to commit murder, trainwrecking, kidnapping, escape from the state prison, or a conspiracy to commit one or more of those crimes and who was armed with the weapon at either of those times.
(2) Any person who used, or attempted to use, a deadly weapon upon a human being in connection with the perpetration of the crime of which that person has been convicted.
(3) Any person who willfully inflicted great bodily injury or torture in the perpetration of the crime of which that person has been convicted.
(4) Any person who has been previously convicted twice in this state of a felony or in any other place of a public offense which, if committed in this state, would have been punishable as a felony.
(5) Unless the person has never been previously convicted once in this state of a felony or in any other place of a public offense which, if committed in this state, would have been punishable as a felony, any person who has been convicted of burglary with explosives, rape with force or violence, torture, aggravated mayhem, murder, attempt to commit murder, trainwrecking, extortion, kidnapping, escape from the state prison, a violation of Section 286, 287, 288, or 288.5, or of former Section 288a, or a conspiracy to commit one or more of those crimes.
(6) Any person who has been previously convicted once in this state of a felony or in any other place of a public offense which, if committed in this state, would have been punishable as a felony, if that person committed any of the following acts:
(A) Unless the person had a lawful right to carry a deadly weapon at the time of the perpetration of the previous crime or the person’s arrest for the previous crime, the person was armed with a weapon at either of those times.
(B) The person used, or attempted to use, a deadly weapon upon a human being in connection with the perpetration of the previous crime.
(C) The person willfully inflicted great bodily injury or torture in the perpetration of the previous crime.
(7) Any public official or peace officer of this state or any city, county, or other political subdivision who, in the discharge of the duties of public office or employment, accepted or gave or offered to accept or give any bribe, embezzled public money, or was guilty of extortion.
(8) Any person who knowingly furnishes or gives away phencyclidine.
(9) Any person who intentionally inflicted great bodily injury in the commission of arson under subdivision (a) of Section 451 or who intentionally set fire to, burned, or caused the burning of, an inhabited structure or inhabited property in violation of subdivision (b) of Section 451.
(10) Any person who, in the commission of a felony, inflicts great bodily injury or causes the death of a human being by the discharge of a firearm from or at an occupied motor vehicle proceeding on a public street or highway.
(11) Any person who possesses a short-barreled rifle or a short-barreled shotgun under Section 33215, a machinegun under Section 32625, or a silencer under Section 33410.
(12) Any person who is convicted of violating Section 8101 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
(13) Any person who is described in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 27590.
(f) When probation is granted in a case which comes within subdivision (e), the court shall specify on the record and shall enter on the minutes the circumstances indicating that the interests of justice would best be served by that disposition.
(g) If a person is not eligible for probation, the judge shall refer the matter to the probation officer for an investigation of the facts relevant to determination of the amount of a restitution fine pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1202.4 in all cases in which the determination is applicable. The judge, in their discretion, may direct the probation officer to investigate all facts relevant to the sentencing of the person. Upon that referral, the probation officer shall immediately investigate the circumstances surrounding the crime and the prior record and history of the person and make a written report to the court containing findings. The findings shall include a recommendation of the amount of the restitution fine as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 1202.4.
(h) If a defendant is convicted of a felony and a probation report is prepared pursuant to subdivision (b) or (g), the probation officer may obtain and include in the report a statement of the comments of the victim concerning the offense. The court may direct the probation officer not to obtain a statement if the victim has in fact testified at any of the court proceedings concerning the offense.
(i) A probationer shall not be released to enter another state unless the case has been referred to the Administrator of the Interstate Probation and Parole Compacts, pursuant to the Uniform Act for Out-of-State Probationer or Parolee Supervision (Article 3 (commencing with Section 11175) of Chapter 2 of Title 1 of Part 4).
(j) In any court in which a county financial evaluation officer is available, in addition to referring the matter to the probation officer, the court may order the defendant to appear before the county financial evaluation officer for a financial evaluation of the defendant’s ability to pay restitution, in which case the county financial evaluation officer shall report the findings regarding restitution and other court-related costs to the probation officer on the question of the defendant’s ability to pay those costs.
Any order made pursuant to this subdivision may be enforced as a violation of the terms and conditions of probation upon willful failure to pay and at the discretion of the court, may be enforced in the same manner as a judgment in a civil action, if any balance remains unpaid at the end of the defendant’s probationary period.
(k) Probation shall not be granted to, nor shall the execution of, or imposition of sentence be suspended for, any person who is convicted of a violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5, or a serious felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 1192.7, and who was on probation for a felony offense at the time of the commission of the new felony offense.
(l) For any person granted probation prior to January 1, 2023, at the time the court imposes probation, the court may take a waiver from the defendant permitting flash incarceration by the probation officer, pursuant to Section 1203.35.
(m) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2021.
Under California Penal Code 1203 PC, most defendants convicted of misdemeanor crimes – including some repeat offenders – are eligible for summary probation.
Summary (informal) probation typically includes no jail time as long as the defendant completes other terms, such as paying fines and restitution. Unless the case involves a sex crime, the judge usually will not request a probation report before deciding whether to grant probation.1
It is more of a challenge for defendants convicted of felony crimes to get probation.
Probation in felony cases is also more formal than in misdemeanor cases: The judge will request a probation report in order to determine the defendant’s suitability for probation. Plus each probationer has a probation officer to report to and will have to appear in court for progress reports.2
Defendants are likely ineligible for probation when they either:
- inflicted great bodily injury on the victim,
- used a deadly weapon,
- hurt or killed someone in a drive-by-shooting, or
- furnished PCP.3
Note that people who violate the terms of their probation risk getting their probation revoked and remanded to jail or prison for the remainder of their sentence.
1. What are terms of probation in California?
It depends on your case. For example, DUI School is a standard term if you are on probation for driving under the influence. Or if you were convicted of domestic violence, you would need to complete the batterer’s intervention program (domestic violence classes).
Other common terms of probation under PC 1203 include:
- community service
- drug/alcohol tests
- drug/alcohol treatment
- avoiding new arrests while the case is open
2. Can anyone get probation?
The more serious the crime, the less likely the judge will grant you probation. Typical disqualifiers in California are:
- you have a criminal history
- the victim sustained great bodily injury
- you used a deadly weapon
- the statute specifically prohibits the judge from granting you probation.
3. What is a probation violation hearing?
If you allegedly violate probation, you are entitled to a probation violation hearing where you can argue that
- you did not violate probation or
- even if you did, you deserve a second chance.
Probation violation hearings are like mini-trials. You have the opportunity to argue your case, present witnesses, and introduce evidence.
Though unlike criminal trials, the D.A. does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated probation. They just have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that you violated probation – which is a much lower standard.4
Ultimately, the judge will either:
- allow you to remain on probation as before,
- allow you to remain on probation but with additional terms, or
- revoke your probation and possibly remand you into custody to serve out the remainder of your sentence.
- California Penal Code 1203 PC – Suspension of Support Proceedings or Sentence. People v. Carbajal, (Supreme Court of California, 1995) 10 Cal. 4th 1114.
- 1203 PC.
- Same. People v. Centeno (Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, 2019) 38 Cal. App. 5th 572.
- See, for example, People v. Rodriguez (1990) 51 Cal.3d 437. See also People v. Belche (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 2020) 53 Cal. App. 5th 956.