Many people go into court facing years behind bars and walk out with probation. Because there are many factors that go into determining if you will get probation, a good understanding of what it is and how it works is important.

Studies have shown that people who are represented by a defense lawyer throughout the criminal court process are more likely to serve probation instead of jail time.

Is Probation the Same As a Suspended Sentence?

No, although probation typically occurs when you receive a suspended sentence after a plea bargain or guilty verdict at trial.

What this means is the judge sentences you to a term of incarceration and then “suspends” that sentence. While your jail or prison sentence is suspended you are supervised by a probation officer and required to follow certain rules, often called terms or conditions of probation.


Jane Smith is convicted of vandalism for damaging property belonging to an ex-employer. The value of the damage was $1,000 which makes her offense a misdemeanor in her state. She is sentenced to 6 months in jail but is given a suspended sentence and 2 years of probation instead.

How do I Qualify for Probation After a Criminal Charge?

There are many factors that play a role in determining your eligibility for probation. They all boil down to whether or not the public (and you) would be best served with you in the community. If the judge feels that you are at risk to commit further criminal acts while released, the likelihood of you getting probation is quite small.

Your criminal history and your stability within the community are two things that are looked at when determining whether you are a “good risk”. If you have a job, a family to provide for, and a limited criminal history, you may be a good candidate.

Consulting with an experienced defense lawyer will help determine if you are potentially eligible for probation.


Although Jane’s offense was fairly serious, she had no criminal history. Since the commission of her crime she had maintained steady employment without any further contacts with the law. She was granted probation because the judge saw her as a “good risk”, doubting she would cause any further trouble.

What are the Rules For Probation?

The terms or conditions of your probation depend on the state you live in and the exact criminal charges and particular circumstances of your case. Here are some common rules of probation:

  • Regularly reporting to a probation officer
  • Abstaining from illegal activities
  • Submitting to random urinalysis drug tests or breath tests, in the case of alcohol offenses
  • Participating in mental health or substance abuse treatment
  • Payment of supervision fees, restitution, and other fines and fees
  • Obeying curfews
  • Maintaining employment and reliable housing arrangements
  • Completing community service hours
  • Submit to random searches by your probation officer

In addition to these the judge and your probation officer can add specific rules depending on your legal violations and in order to maintain adequate supervision of you during your period of probation.


In addition to the regular terms of probation, Jane was required to attend anger management courses and a restraining order was put in place to keep her from her ex-employer and his place of business. She was also ordered to pay restitution.

What Happens if I Break These Rules for My Probation?

Breaking the rules of probation is called “violating”. It depends on the specific violation. If you are charged with another crime, you could be at significant risk of jail time.

In other cases, if you are caught in violation of your probation, your officer will likely add more restrictive rules to your case. Depending on the violation, he or she may institute a curfew or ask the judge to put you on house arrest.

If, however, the violation is serious or the officer thinks your behavior makes you a bad candidate to remain in the community, you can be taken back before the court. A warrant may be issued to get you there.

If the judge finds you in violation he can revoke your probation and activate the suspended sentence. This means you will serve the original jail or prison sentence that was suspended at that time.

A qualified criminal defense attorney can help you with probation violation hearings as well.

Supervised probation is not exactly fun, but it’s far more preferable to losing all of your freedom. Contact our attorneys today for some legal advice and insight into whether your case may stand a good chance of resulting in probation.