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Probation vs. Parole

by Lindsay Chambers

The criminal justice system can be daunting, especially when understanding complex terms like probation and parole. Both are alternatives to imprisonment but serve different purposes and come with distinct conditions. Anyone involved in the criminal justice system should understand these concepts, their differences and the implications of violating their terms.

What Is Probation?

Probation is a sentencing option that allows a person convicted of a crime to remain in the community instead of serving time in jail. A judge or judicial officer may grant probation to first-time or low-risk offenders.

Probation comes with conditions like meeting regularly with a probation officer, maintaining employment, staying within a specified area, avoiding specific people and places and not committing any more crimes.

There are two categories of probation.

  • Formal: Typically for felonies, formal probation requires regular check-ins with a probation officer.
  • Informal: Often used for misdemeanors, informal probation does not require regular meetings with a probation officer but still requires you to comply with specific conditions.

What Is Parole?

The California Board of Parole Hearings grants parole to eligible inmates who have served a portion of their time in state prison. The board sets the conditions of this supervised release from jail after they deem an inmate is not a public safety risk and their stay in prison has sufficiently prepared them to reenter society. Typically, a parolee must agree to do things like:

  • Upholding the law 
  • Ensuring others’ safety 
  • Agreeing to remain within city or county limits
  • Consenting to police searches at any time, with or without a warrant or cause
  • Keeping scheduled appointments with their assigned parole officer 
  • Avoiding contact with specific people

If you refuse to sign an agreement to abide by the proposed conditions, the board will rescind its offer of parole and you will remain in prison a maximum of six more months.

Rights Under Probation and Parole

People on probation or parole retain some rights, but also face significant restrictions. For instance, probation officers may conduct a search without a warrant if they believe you possess contraband.

Probationers and parolees have the right to:

  • Legal representation during their hearings.
  • Receive written notice of claimed violations.
  • Be heard in person and present witnesses and evidence.

Violations of Probation or Parole

Violating your probation or parole can lead to serious consequences, including going to jail or prison. Common violations include not reporting to your probation officer, not appearing at a scheduled court appearance, visiting certain people or places or using illegal drugs.

When a violation occurs:

  • The probation or parole officer may issue a warning or require a court hearing.
  • During the hearing, the court or parole board will consider the nature and seriousness of the violation, past violations, other evidence and any mitigating circumstances.
  • The outcome can range from continued probation or parole under the same or additional terms, to revocation and incarceration.

Protecting Your Rights in California

If you are on probation or parole, you must adhere strictly to your imposed conditions. The legal stakes are high for those accused of violating these terms, and skilled legal representation is crucial.

At Brower Law, Ronald Brower brings over four decades of experience in criminal defense, supporting and representing people on probation or parole. If you face challenges or accusations of violations, contact us today for seasoned expertise to protect your rights.

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