Written by attorney Erin Stephanie Shinn

Probation not always the best option

You should never take a plea bargain on a crime you did not commit. However, when you are guilty of a crime and have no true legal defense, it's best to accept responsibility and plea guilty. In most cases, a first time offender and other low level offenders have the option of negotiating a punishment of a jail sentence or probation. A fine usually accompanies the sentence or probation. No one really likes the idea of going to jail. But not everyone is a good candidate for probation. In Texas, even for misdemeanors, probation can be fairly extensive, especially if you are on probation for a DWI or drug offense. If you cannot complete all of the conditions of probation in the allotted time of supervision, the Judge can sentence you to serve a more lengthy jail sentence, sometimes up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor. You have to report in person monthly, take multiple classes, get drug tested, do community service, and abstain completely from alcohol. In fact, you cannot even go places where alcohol is served, like a bar, or hang out with other people who are drinking or using drugs. On top of that, the Court can change the conditions of your probation at any time for any reason. If you agree to probation and get caught breaking the rules, the Judge may extend your probation, add conditions to it, or make you serve jail time just for violating. This jail time may not even count towards an eventual jail sentence if probation is later revoked after multiple violations. The most common reasons that people are not successful on probation are failure to pay and report, a combination that is called absconding supervision, and drug and alcohol use during probation. If you are not financially able to make the expensive monthly payments, do not sign up for probation. If you cannot stay away from drugs, alcohol, and the places and people involved in those things for the period of supervision, do not sign up for probation. Usually, the initial jail sentence offer will be significantly lower than the amount of time you will spend in jail for a probation violation or a final sentence for not completing probation. Just ask Linsday Lohan how much better probation is than a short initial jail sentence. She agreed to probation several years ago, only to have it extended, be ordered to rehab, and serve jail time for violating the rules. If she could go back and get one week in jail to be done with her case, I bet she'd have done it. - Erin Shinn, Trial Attorney

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