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"I'm on Probation, and I Don't Want to Go Back to Jail: A Brief Look at Probation, Violations, and Relief if Your Term is Successful."

I’m on Probation, and I don’t want to go back to Jail: A brief look at probation, violations, and relief if your term is successful.

Every day in courthouses across the country, including in West Covina, judges are “suspending”[1] the custodial sentences of convicts in favor of Probation.

Probation is a more cost-efficient alternative to jail or prison,[2] and, as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the earliest cases on the probation system, U.S. v. Murray in 1928, it gives individuals the chance to reform without the hardship, expense, and risk of imprisonment.[3] It is estimated that one in every 100 adults in California is on probation.[4]

The terms of probation will vary based on the type of crime involved, e.g., misdemeanor or felony, and other facts of the case. A judge has wide-ranging authority in determining the terms of probation[5]; however, the terms “‘must be sufficiently precise for the probationer to know what is required of him, and for the court to determine whether the condition has been violated,’ if it is to withstand a challenge on the ground of vagueness”[6]; the terms must also relate to the convicted offense. For example, if you were convicted of drunk driving, the probation terms will likely include regular attendance at AA meetings, among other terms.

Once the probationer has successfully complied with the terms of the sentence, other forms of relief may be available, including early termination of probation.

Informal Probation for Misdemeanor Crimes

If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime (punishable by a maximum penalty of one year or less in county jail), you may get sentenced to probation, also called summary probation or informal probation. Misdemeanor probation typically lasts 1 to 3 years but may continue for up to 5 years. Unlike felony probation, individuals sentenced to misdemeanor probation do not need to check in with a county probation officer (“P.O”) but will likely appear in court before a judge for “progress reports.”

Formal Probation for Felony Crimes

If you have been convicted of a felony crime (punishable in jail or prison for more than a year) you may be eligible for felony probation, also known as formal probation. Felony probation can last from 3 to 5 years. Probation reports are required by the judge before sentencing. These reports provide an account of the crime, background on the defendant, and oftentimes include statements from the victim.[7] Individuals who receive felony probation are supervised by a probation officer, and must typically check in with their P.O. monthly to ensure compliance with the probation terms.

Violation of Probation & Revocation

California penal code section 1203.2(a) allows the court to revoke probation in the interest of justice, if the court has reason to believe that the probationer violated any of the terms or conditions of probation.

Violations can occur for failing to abide by the terms and conditions of your probation, such as:

  • Failing to pay all court-ordered fines and fees, such as restitution to a victim;
  • Failing to show up at your required court hearings;
  • Failing to take and or pass a drug test;
  • Failing to report to your probation officer;
  • Having a firearm;
  • Violating an emergency order or temporary restraining order;
  • Failing to attend court-ordered counseling;
  • Failing to pay child support

The specific terms of your probation will be drawn from the facts of your case. If you are found to be in violation, you are entitled to a revocation hearing before your probation is cancelled and you are sent to jail or prison. Coimbra Law has a team of expert defense attorneys, including Glendora probation violation defense attorneys, who may be able to help you navigate through this process and find relief.

Probation revocation proceedings are not a part of a criminal prosecution, and the trial court has broad discretion in determining whether the probationer has violated probation.[8]

When considering probation revocation, the court considers whether the probationer has shown that he or she can conform their conduct to the parameters of the law.[9] Again, a grant or denial of probation is within the trial court’s broad discretion.

Upon finding a probation violation, a court has three options:

  • Reinstate probation on the same terms;
  • Reinstate it on modified terms;
  • Or terminate probation and order a commitment to prison.[10]

If you are found to have violated your probation, the judge has the discretion to impose the maximum prison sentence allowed under the law.

Termination of Probation

California Penal Code § 1203.3(a) allows the court to revoke, modify, or change, among other terms, the granted probation. “The court may at any time when the ends of justice will be subserved thereby, and when the good conduct and reform of the person so held on probation shall warrant it, terminate the period of probation, and discharge the person so held.”

If you are interested in this relief, the expert attorneys at Coimbra Law may be able to help you file a Motion with the court and request a hearing. The defense attorneys at Coimbra Law will advocate on your behalf and speak with the prosecutor and other sources to encourage support of early termination; the judge will take into consideration the prosecutor’s opinion in weighing whether to grant termination. You will need to demonstrate successful compliance with the terms of your probation and or hardships imposed by probation.

In the Motion and before the judge, you will need to demonstrate that your “good conduct and reform” justify terminating probation early, meaning that you do not pose a threat to public safety, you are working to make positive gains post-conviction, and, most importantly, you have successfully fulfilled the terms of probation, including:

  • Paying victim restitution;
  • Paying all fines;
  • Completing court-ordered classes, such as anger management or for drunk driving; and
  • Completing community service,
  • Among other terms determined with the probation sentence.

The judge may also take into account a probationer’s criminal history, the severity of the conduct which led to the conviction coupled with the prosecutor’s opinion, and whether the probation is causing a hardship.

Hardships can include:

  • Blocking gainful employment, professional licensure, or workplace promotion;
  • Preventing necessary travel for work or personal family reasons; or
  • The ability to obtain a loan or other financial advancement,
  • Among other benefits.

In arguing for hardship, you will need to demonstrate before the court how probation has led to these or other substantial hardships to support termination.

Once termination of probation is granted, you can petition the court to expunge your criminal record and you may be eligible for other forms of relief.


[1] Pen. Code § 1203.1

[2] Ryken Grattet and Brandon Martin, Just the Facts: Probation in California (Public Policy Institute of California, Working Paper Dec. 2015), available at www.ppic.org)

[3] U.S. v. Murray, 275 U.S. 347, 355 (1928)

[4] Figure from 2014. Ryken Grattet and Brandon Martin, Just the Facts: Probation in California (Public Policy Institute of California, Working Paper Dec. 2015), available at www.ppic.org)

[5] Pen. Code § 1203 et. seq.

[6] In re Sheena K (2007) 40 Cal. 4th 875, 890

[7] California Penal Code § 1203(h)

[8] People v. Urke (2011) 197 Cal.App. 4th 766,772

[9] People v. Beaudrie (1983) 147 Cal.App. 3d 686, 691

[10] California Penal Code § 1203.2(b); People v. Medina (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 318, 321