California judges have a great amount of discretion under California law in deciding the sentences of defendants convicted of a crime. California law authorizes a judge to sentence a criminal defendant to the maximum prescribed penalty for the crime in which a defendant is convicted. For those eligible defendants, a judge may suspend the imposition of the sentence and grant probation instead of jail or prison time.

Judges accordingly have the discretion to decide the length of a defendant’s probation term. Courts may place defendants on probation for up to the maximum time they could have been sentenced to imprisonment. Probation allows defendants the chance to complete their sentences in the community under a “conditional release.” Upon successful completion of probation, a defendant is typically entitled to have a guilty plea dismissed or a jury verdict set aside.

Probation requires criminal defendants to agree to comply with certain terms and conditions during their probationary period to avoid having to fulfill their sentence to serve time incarcerated. Because every criminal case typically contains a different set of circumstances, judges tend to set terms and conditions of probation specific to a defendant.

California delineates two types of probation: The first is summary or informal probation, which is served without court supervision as the defendant is unsupervised by any probation officer. The second type of probation in California is felony or formal probation, which requires that individuals report to and be supervised directly by a probation officer.

Formal probation is a sentencing alternative to prison for those who are eligible. Judges determine eligibility based on many factors, such as the defendant’s criminal history and the severity of the recent crime. Formal or felony probation only applies in cases of felonies. California felony sentencing guidelines provide judges with the option to impose a prison term or probation.

If a defendant receives probation, the judge suspends execution of the prison sentence, if given, or simply places the accused on probation without setting a prison term. Individuals on felony probation must report to a probation officer and pay restitution if applicable.

Individuals convicted of certain crimes are ineligible for felony probation. A person is ineligible if convicted of a felony, and the person has a prior conviction for either a violent felony under California Penal Code § 667.5, or a serious felony under California Penal Code § 1192.7. A person is also not qualified for probation if he or she is convicted of a serious or violent felony, or the person commits the offense while on felony probation.

Some common conditions of felony probation include:

  • mandatory meetings with a probation officer;
  • payment of restitution;
  • submission to drug testing, (if applicable – certain drug crimes);
  • community service,
  • an agreement to submit to police searches; and
  • an agreement not to violate any laws.

Felony probation in California typically lasts between three and five years.

John Patrick Dolan has over forty years of experience helping well-intentioned Californians clear their criminal records and continue making present contributions to the Coachella Valley as valued members of the community. Call the Dolan Law Firm today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

What Is Formal Probation?

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