How long is felony probation in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

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Felony probation in California may be for as long as the maximum time for which the person could have been sentenced to prison. (Penal Code section 1203.1)

The exception is a case where the maximum possible prison sentence is five years or less. Then the probation period can be up to, but no longer than, five years.

If a person is placed on felony probation in California instead of being sentenced to state prison, the judge may also:

  • impose county jail time,
  • impose a fine,
  • impose restitution,
  • impose other appropriate terms and conditions.

Please note that the judge DOES NOT have to order any of those things.

After a person is placed on felony probation the court has the authority to change or modify any of the terms and conditions during the probation period.

How long does felony probation in California last?

The probation period may be for as long as the maximum possible prison sentence for the case. There is an exception:

  • If the maximum possible prison sentence is five years or less, then the probation period can be up to, but no longer than, five years.

For example: Suppose Don has an accident while driving drunk and is charged with felony DUI. The DA learns the 53 year-old passenger in the other vehicle broke his leg. The DA adds a great bodily injury enhancement. Don could receive up to 6 years in prison, but his attorney negotiates a plea deal for Don to be put on probation. The probation period can be up to 6 years.

Please note that if Don were convicted of felony DUI with no enhancements, he could only receive up to three years in prison. In that case he could be put on probation for up to 5 years

Can everyone convicted of a felony in California be put on probation?

No. A person must be “eligible” for probation under California law.

People who are convicted of certain crimes, or who have been previously convicted of certain crimes, are not eligible for felony probation EXCEPT in:

  • Unusual cases,
  • Where the interests of justice would best be served by granting the person probation. PC1203(e).

For example: If a person is convicted of the crime of robbery in California, and at the time of the robbery was armed with a firearm, that person is ineligible for probation.

What happens if I am convicted of a felony in California and I am eligible for probation?

Once a person is convicted of a felony and is deemed eligible for probation the judge refers the case to the probation officer.

The probation officer will investigate:

  • the circumstances surrounding the crime,
  • the prior history and record of the convicted person.

The probation officer will then:

  • make a written report to the court
  • recommend granting or denying probation
  • recommend conditions of probation, if granted
  • recommend whether restitution should be required.

The information in the report will be considered by the judge in either aggravation or mitigation of the punishment. PC1203(b)(1).

Please note that sometimes felony cases are plea bargained and are not referred to the probation department for a report.

If I am put on felony probation what will I have to do?

The judge may grant probation “upon those terms and conditions as it shall determine.” PC1203.1(a). The following terms and conditions must be considered by the judge when granting felony probation:

  • county jail time,
  • fines,
  • restitution to either the victim or the Victim's Restitution Fund,
  • bonds to ensure performance of the conditions of probation.

Please note that the judge does not HAVE TO order any of those things.

Further, the judge may order additional conditions depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, the judge could order:

  • Drug or alcohol treatment
  • Attendance at AA or NA meetings
  • Anger management classes
  • Parenting classes.

There are limits, however. The conditions must:

  • be reasonable
  • be related to the crime for which the offender was convicted,
  • foster rehabilitation of the defendant,
  • protect the public.

What if I don't abide by the conditions of felony probation?

If a person fails to comply with the terms and conditions of probation imposed by the judge, they will be in violation of probation and subject to arrest.

If found in violation of felony probation a person could be:

  • ordered to comply with additional terms and conditions,
  • jail time could be added or imposed, or
  • the suspended prison sentence could be ordered served.

Can the court later change or modify the terms and conditions of probation?

Yes. A judge, during the term of probation, may modify the original orders.

For example: Don is placed on probation for six years after pleading guilty to felony DUI charges and causing great bodily injury. After four years, Don's lawyer asks the judge to shorten Don's probation since he has performed so well while on probation. The judge agrees and ends Don's probation after four years.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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