How to work with your probation officer
If you have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a crime, you may have been sentenced to probation instead of jail time. Even if you have not yet received a sentence from the judge, probation officers could play an important role at your sentencing hearing.
What do probation officers do?
Probation officer responsibilities vary from state to state, but officers typically have 2 roles.
1. Act as advisors or investigators to the judge.
After a defendant has pleaded guilty or received a guilty verdict, a probation officer will conduct a pre-sentence interview with the defendant before the sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, the probation officer will use the information they learned in the pre-sentence interview to recommend a sentence to the judge. The judge is free to accept, reject, or simply ignore the probation officer’s recommendation. Along with the recommendation of the prosecutor and defense attorney, the probation officer’s recommendation is usually an important factor for the judge’s decision.
2. Supervise defendants who have been sentenced to probation in place of jail time.
Terms of probation often depend on the crime and the defendant, but the probation officer will periodically check in with the defendant to ensure that he is complying with the probation terms.
How often do I meet with my probation officer?
How often you meet with your probation officer depends on the terms of your probation. You will usually have to meet regularly, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis. Sometimes probation officers will allow you to check in with them by phone, or will require that you meet with them in person.
If you have not yet been sentenced, your pre-sentence interview will likely be the first time you meet your probation officer and will probably be the last unless you are sentenced to probation. If you receive jail or prison time and not probation, you will likely not see a probation officer again unless and until you are released on parole. If released on parole, you will likely be assigned a parole officer that has very similar duties as a probation officer.
What to expect when working with your probation officer
For a pre-sentence interview, lawyers will advise you to be honest when asked questions about your crime. In order to make a sentencing recommendation to the court, probation officers want to know all of the negative and positive factors about your life. Specifically, probation officers like to know that you take responsibility for your actions and that you understand the consequences of what you did.
If you receive probation as a sentence, you can expect your probation officer to check in with you by phone or in person on a regular basis. Some probation officers make home, school, and work visits. Some probation officers will tell you that they plan to visit you, and some will show up unannounced. You may also have to consent to drug tests, especially if your conviction was for a drug crime. What to expect from your probation officer depends on the terms and conditions of your probation.
What should I bring to the first meeting with my probation officer?
When meeting with your probation officer for the first time, you should gather and bring any documents about positive aspects of your life, especially for a pre-sentence interview. For example, you may wish to bring
- Proof of completed substance abuse programs
- Proof that you are in school or receive good grades
- Information about your family or job
Positive factors in your life could lead to your officer recommending a lower sentence to the court. If you are already on probation, such information could lead to a recommendation that your probation end early.