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Parole or Probation: Key Considerations for Criminal Defendants

Parole vs. Probation Differences in NJWhen an accused is convicted of a crime, New Jersey law provides a range of sentencing options from which a judge may choose for the defendant. Each crime is graded as indictable or a disorderly persons offense, with corresponding sentences. For example, a fourth-degree crime comes with a possible sentence of up to 18 months in prison along with a maximum fine of $10,000.00, whereas a petty disorderly persons offense, say disorderly conduct, may result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Whether the convicted individual gets the maximum sentence, the minimal sentence, or another sentence, like probation, is up to the judge. Certain factors sway the judge one way or another, such as the circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s life, their prior criminal history, and how compellingly their lawyer argues aggravating and mitigating factors at the sentencing hearing. For example, a judge could decide that the defendant serve a term of probation rather than prison. It is also possible for a criminal defense attorney to secure probation as an outcome by plea bargaining with the prosecutor handling the case. People often confuse the concepts of probation and parole, which have some very key differences when it comes to criminal cases in New Jersey. It is important as a criminal defendant to understand the meanings, requirements, and benefits of parole vs. probation in your case, as well as how it fits into the timeline of the criminal process.

How does Probation Work in New Jersey?

Probation describes a sentence outside of prison. And an individual placed on probation has pled guilty or been tried and found guilty of committing a crime. However, certain criminal convictions fall under legislation designed to keep offenders in prison for a minimum time. For example, Graves Act weapons and firearms violations require a minimum prison sentence of three years or 1/3rd to 1/2 of the prison sentence, whichever is greater. To get around Graves Act requirements, a defendant may obtain a waiver from the Act’s requirements to receive a probation sentence. However, the judge must approve the waiver, which can be full or partial. And the judge may only permit a partial waiver, meaning the mandatory prison term is reduced if the circumstance of the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal history, among other aggravating factors, weigh against full probation.

Requirements of Probation

To complete a probation sentence, the convicted individual must perform specific actions and refrain from certain behaviors for a prescribed period, which can be up to five years. So, while they are free to conduct their daily lives in society, they must also obey the conditions mandated by their probation officer. Some of the rules include reporting to a probation officer regularly, whether that is once a month, twice a month, once a week, in person, or by telephone. The rules and restrictions are designed to keep the probationer from committing further crimes, as well as helping them rehabilitate so that they may become law-abiding citizens. The terms of probation may vary, some standard to all probationers, while others specific to the individual.

Some standard terms include staying out of trouble with the law, supporting dependents, and maintaining employment. In addition, all probationers must stay away from drugs and excessive alcohol, remain crime-free, report any employment or address changes, and submit to periodic home visits, along with conditions specific to the defendant’s case and circumstances. For example, a probationer may have to attend counseling or educational courses, pay restitution or fines, and complete community service. If they abuse substances, they might be required to complete a substance abuse treatment program, as well as abide by a curfew, wear a GPS bracelet, refrain from driving, stay confined at a halfway house, or submit to random drug and alcohol testing. The probation officer monitors probation prior to completion and reports any probation violations to the court.

Violations of Probation

A violation by the probation officer triggers a hearing at which the defendant must appear and defend themselves against the cited violations. A probationer accused of a violation must demonstrate that the complaint against them is incorrect, the behaviors cited were not probation violations, or minor accidents that should not terminate probation, especially compared to their record of compliance and good behavior. The judge then determines whether the individual violated probation and the penalties for doing so, which could include probation revocation and imprisonment. Since the object of probation is criminal reform, a violation may suggest the probationer is not fulfilling the purposes of probation.

Early Termination of Probation

On the other hand, a judge can also end probation early if the probationer completes all terms and conditions of probation. The defendant can file a motion stating the reasons for early termination, including career advancement or other opportunities that show the defendant is working toward becoming a productive citizen. In deciding, the court considers the overall crime circumstances and the defendant’s behavior and achievements while on probation. Most courts do not terminate probation before the halfway mark of the entire term or if the public may be endangered by the defendant’s early release from supervised probation.

How is Parole Distinct from Probation in NJ?

Parole is also a supervised alternative to prison, except parole is an early release from a prison sentence, whereas a probation sentence avoids prison time. If, after a parole hearing, the state parole board decides they are eligible, a prisoner is paroled from prison and can resume life among society. Like probation, however, the parolee must check in with and follow the rules set forth by the parole officer. And like probation, parole conditions require the parolee to avoid arrest, stay employed, attend courses, treatment, or counseling, among other requirements specific to the parolee’s circumstances and criminal history.

Parole eligibility depends on the sentencing judge and the criminal conviction. For example, some crimes fall under the No Early Release Act, like kidnapping or second degree aggravated assault. That means, from a sentence of eight years of the possible five to ten years for second-degree aggravated assault, the convicted must serve 6.8 years. Under NERA, the prisoner is not eligible for parole before 85% of their prison term is over. And certain illegal weapons and firearms charges are subject to the Graves Act, which also requires a minimum penalty unless the sentencing judge makes an exception.

Intensive Supervision Program (ISP)

Finally, between probation and parole is the Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) for specially screened prisoners who would benefit by serving the last remaining months or years of their sentence integrated into the community. As the name suggests, inmates are supervised far more closely than either probation or parole while they reeducate and rehabilitate themselves working jobs and community service, attending classes and treatment. Once a sentencing judge determines their eligibility, with input from the prosecutor, probation, and parole officers, among others, the released inmate works through their addictions (if any), and maintains their work and family obligations until they complete the program.

How a Lawyer can Help You with Parole or Probation for Your Case

Getting into a supervised program, whether probation, parole, or ISP, a criminal defendant needs to present their most robust case of eligibility and potential to succeed. Without legal experience with the process to convince a judge that probation or parole best serves the individual and community, an individual facing a prison term may make mistakes and miss potential opportunities to avoid or get out of jail earlier. Hiring a criminal defense attorney to make a case for probation, parole, or earlier termination of probation makes sense if you stand to lose your freedom after conviction.

The criminal defense attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm, LLC. have vast experience with getting clients into alternative programs to prison sentences, whether it be Pre-Trial Intervention, Drug Court, probation, or another outcome that is the best case scenario considering the circumstances and the charges at hand. Contact our talented criminal defense team to discuss your criminal charges and all of the avenues that may be pursued to reach you the more desirable result. Call (201)-556-1570 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. We are available 24/7 to best serve your needs. Our law practice spans the state of New Jersey, so if you have a case in Bergen County, Essex County, Somerset County, Morris County, or another county in this state, please feel free to contact us for further guidance and assistance.

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Learn More About How to Fight Your Charges

If you've been charged with a criminal offense, disorderly persons offense, or traffic / DWI violation, you have the right to an attorney who will defend you against your charges and fight for your best interests. To learn more about how your attorney can fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced, click a link below to see our video library of legal defenses and strategies.

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