How to Survive Probation (Even if You are Poor)
Being on probation means being half free. A judge can sentence you to jail or prison without a jury trial. The state does not have to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, only that it is more likely than not that you violated your probation. Law enforcement can search you at any ti
When you are on probation your primary goal should be to get off of probation.If you strictly comply with the terms of your sentence, your probation officer can put you on non-reporting status. This will save you reporting fees and the inconvenience of reporting. It also greatly reduces the odds of you going to jail because your supervision will be far less intrusive. Some judges will even terminate probation early when a defendant has done as instructed. This is a very happy ending. Not only does early termination restore your full liberty, it permits early dismissal of the charges against you if you were given a first offender sentence or conditional discharge. Every probationer should take his probation very seriously. Compliance is the only thing keeping you out of jail. Report as instructed. Avoid alcohol and non-prescribed drugs. Pay your fines as soon as you possibly can. Make a list of the conditions of your probation and write a time for performing each one on your calendar. If you don't have a calendar, get one. If you aren't addicted to drugs or alcohol, can keep a schedule, and have a couple thousand dollars in your bank account or have decent credit, completing probation is no harder than getting a driver's license.
Making it through probation is much harder if you are poor.Indigent defendants are much more likely to have their probation revoked. Progressive attorneys often wax eloquent about how unfair this is, but these pretty words are of little use to cash strapped probationers. If you are on probation and are struggling financially, thinking about justice is a dangerous luxury. You are going to have a far harder time getting through your probation than you would if you were affluent. There is nothing you can do to fix the structural inequities of the system. Keep your eyes on the prize: getting through probation while spending as little time in jail as possible. Courts sentence indigent defendants to pay fines and fees every day. The legislature and the appellate courts are not about to stop this. In most cases, probationers not only have to pay fines and court costs, they also must pay probation reporting fees, drug testing fees, fees for court ordered treatment and evaluations, and restitution for court appointed attorneys. In a typical misdemeanor case, these will total $1,200 to $3,500. Some courts, including the courts in Henry County, let probationers "work off" their fines by performing additional community service. In Henry County, such community service is credited at the rate of $10 per hour. If you can earn more than $10 an hour by working overtime or getting a second job, that is probably your best bet. However, if you can't find enough work to pay your fines, or if the only work you can find pays near the minimum wage, additional community service is a good alternative. Unfortunately, many of the fees imposed on probationers cannot be "worked off." Probation reporting fees, drug testing fees, and court ordered counseling and treatment all must be paid for by money order. What should you do if you simply can't pay these? The short answer is do everything else you possibly can to comply with your sentence. Work off your fines. Report as directed. Pass every drug test. If you can't afford a court ordered substance abuse evaluation, go to Alcoholics Anonymous. If you can't afford anger management classes, visit your pastor for counseling. Look for work. Most importantly, document everything you do because you may have to prove it to a judge. The Georgia Constitution forbids imprisonment for debt. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that probationers cannot be incarcerated for inability to pay a fine. These constitutional guarantees are not always honored. Probation officers can and do seek warrants for non-payment of fees even when there is no way a probationer could have paid them. Some trial judges routinely sentence indigent defendants to jail or prison for failure to pay. The appellate process is so slow and technical that these judges are rarely reversed on appeal. Most probationers who can't pay their fees make their situation much worse by not reporting. As a public defender, I was eager to fight for an indigent probationer who tried to pay his fines but honestly couldn't. I never got a case that framed this issue cleanly. As a private attorney, I would happily take such a case pro bono. If you look for work, can't find it, report to probation, and get locked up for not paying a $48 supervision fee, the judge will probably let you out of jail. If he doesn't, you have an awesome appeal that might make things better for thousands of other people. However, if you get scared that your probation officer will arrest you and don't report, you forfeit your best defense. Because you can be locked up simply for not reporting, the argument over whether you could have paid becomes academic. Nothing I can write will create equal justice for rich and poor. I hope that this advice will make things a little less unequal.