Misdemeanor probation, sometimes referred to as “summary” or “informal” probation, is an alternative to jail. It allows low-risk offenders to serve most or all of their sentence under court supervision instead of behind bars.
Summary probation typically lasts for between one and three years in California (though it can last up to five). During that time, the defendant must comply with certain conditions, such as:
- attending counseling,
- paying restitution, or
- performing community labor.
If a defendant fails to comply with these conditions, the judge has the right to revoke probation and send the offender to jail.
Note that summary probation is different from California's felony, or “formal,” probation.
Can a person in one California county serve informal probation in a different California county?
A person in California can typically serve misdemeanor probation in another county so long as it does not violate any probate condition.
In this situation, though, it is often best for the party serving probation to get the permission of the court; and, if applicable, transfer the case to the other county.
At the very least, the person serving probation should consult with his attorney.
Please note that summary probation generally does not impose restrictions on travel. This means those parties serving informal probation can travel to other counties, cities, states, and usually even different countries.
What is misdemeanor probation and who can be sentenced to it?
Misdemeanor probation is an alternative to jail that allows low-risk offenders to serve most or all of their sentence under court supervision instead of behind bars.
Almost anyone convicted of a misdemeanor can receive summary probation.
While courts typically give this probation to first-time and juvenile offenders, even people with prior convictions can receive informal probation.
The ultimate determination as to when a person can be granted this probation all depends on the judge's assessment of what a defendant will do with a second (or subsequent) chance.
How does a person get informal probation instead of jail time?
In many cases, the prosecutor and the defendant's California criminal defense attorney will agree to probation as part of a plea agreement. In other situations, the judge will grant probation during sentencing.
Please note that while informal probation often includes no jail time, this is not guaranteed. But if a sentence of probation does include jail time, it will be for a much shorter period than the maximum.
What conditions can a judge put on misdemeanor probation?
Judges have a great deal of discretion in crafting probation conditions in California. Note, however, that every misdemeanor probation condition must always be:
- fitting and proper to the end that justice may be done, and
- reasonable and logically related to the offense.
In some cases, specific probation conditions are required by law. For instance, people convicted of certain California crimes of domestic violence must complete a batterer's program of treatment.
Other common conditions of summary probation can include that the defendant:
- pay fines and/or victim restitution,
- participate in individual or group therapy,
- complete community service or Caltrans roadside work,
- seek gainful employment,
- be subject to a restraining order (for offenses involving California domestic violence crimes),
- abstain from alcohol and/or drugs and attend a substance abuse program (in cases involving California DUI or certain California drug crimes),
- not drive with any measurable amount of alcohol or refuse a chemical DUI blood or breath test (if on California DUI probation),
- install an ignition interlock device or SCRAM ankle bracelet (generally imposed in connection with a multiple offense DUI conviction), and
- not violate any laws.
Can a probation order be modified?
The judge does have the discretion to modify the terms of probation. Such modification can be initiated by the:
- defendant, or
Note though that a modification is not always in the probationer's favor. For instance, in response to a probation violation the judge might:
- extend the period of probation, or
- increase the period the probationer must spend in jail.
But typically, a probation modification can help a defendant.
What happens if a person violates his summary probation?
If a defendant fails to comply with the conditions of probation, the judge can do one of three things. These are:
- overlook the violation,
- modify the probation order, or
- revoke probation and send the defendant to jail.
If the court orders the defendant to jail, it can be for up to the maximum punishment for the original crime. There may also be an additional sentence if the probation violation involved a new crime.
Keep in mind, though, that before a judge can revoke probation, there must be a California probation violation hearing. At the hearing, the defendant will have the opportunity to deny or explain the violation.
If the defendant fails to attend the hearing – or if the defendant loses – the judge will immediately revoke probation and send the defendant to jail.