By Jedidiah McKeehan
When one of my criminal clients is entering a plea agreement regarding what they are charged with, they often receive probation. That means they serve none of their sentence in jail but instead serve their sentence on probation. This usually requires that they report monthly to a probation officer to ensure they are staying out of trouble, that they are maintaining housing, and pursuing employment.
For example, on a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, my client may be sentenced to serve the mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail. A DUI charge is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail (1 day less than a year). That means that after my client does their 48 hours in jail, they will spend the next 11 months and 27 days on probation.
However, when the judge announces what that agreement is in front of my client, there can be a mild freak-out moment when they hear how the judge states it. The judge will say, “I sentence you to 11 months and 29 days in jail (client freaks out), all time suspended to supervised probation except for 48 hours (client breathes a sigh of relief).”
Why do the judges state the sentence that way? Because if the client violates their probation, their probation can be revoked and they can be ordered to serve the remainder of their sentence in jail. This happens all the time and often for the most avoidable reasons in the world.
Probation, when done properly, is a great tool. It allows someone who has made a mistake to avoid serving jail time, get them on the right path, and ensure that they maintain good behavior for a period of time. It is the hope that the person can be “remediated,” learn their lesson from their run-in with the law and move on to become a productive member of society.
Often, someone will enter a plea of guilty to a charge and get probation, and then they will not even bother going to their first probation meeting. That will instantly trigger a probation violation and the defendant will be re-arrested and can be made to serve the rest of their sentence in jail instead of on probation.
Probation allows people to avoid serving their sentence in jail, but if they cannot comply with the terms of their probation, then they may not remain on probation. Oh by the way, just the “privilege” of being on probation is $40.00 to $50.00 a month in probation fees, which may not sound like a lot, but when you are poor, it’s hard to come up with that money. I have seen people violated for not making their monthly probation fee payments.
To come full circle, when your sentence is suspended, that means that your sentence is one that will be served on probation instead of in jail.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this and other legal issues.