Probation is not an 'easy' sentence, part I

Some people believe that probation is a “slap on the wrist” and insufficient punishment for breaking the law in all cases. And indeed, being sentenced to probation, or agreeing to probation as part of a plea bargain, is preferable to jail or prison for most criminal defendants in West Virginia.

But those who have never been on probation should not make the mistake of assuming that it is easy. Having your life largely under the control of the court can be difficult. Violations, as determined by the judge, can put you in jail, even when a violation seems from the outside to be quite minor.

A New York Times article on the subject uses the ordeal of one woman who served 18 months of probation for DUI. It was her first offense of any kind.

Specifically, the defendant and prosecutor agreed to “probation before judgment,” a deal in which the defendant’s guilty plea is set aside, unless he or she violates the terms of probation.

In this case, the judge imposed stricter terms than usual: besides a longer probation term than most first-time DUI defendants receive, the judge ordered the probation to be supervised. He also ordered her to attend alcohol education classes at her own expense, and to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three times a week. Finally, he forbade the defendant to move out of her apartment without his permission.

Already, the costs were piling up: $2,000 to the bail bondsman, and hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs. And her ordeal was just beginning. We will go into what happened next in our next post.

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