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Felony Probation in California Criminal Cases

Felony Probation in California Criminal Cases
Felony probation is a part of the criminal case process allowing a convicted felon to serve their sentence out of custody.

Under California law, a felony crime is one in which the defendant if convicted faces potential state prison time. However, not all felony convictions result in incarceration in the California state prison. In cases of non-violent offenders or those with otherwise clean records, the court will often agree to impose formal, or felony probation.

Felony probation, also known as “formal probation,” is also a part of the criminal case process and a sentencing alternative to prison and allows a convicted felon to serve all are part of their sentence out of custody. However, unlike misdemeanor probation, anyone on felony probation will be under the supervision of a probation officer.

It should be noted that not convicted defendants are eligible for probation. A criminal court judge will use many different factors to determine eligibility, such as type of crime and their prior criminal record. Formal probation typically last three to five years and defendant's will have specific terms and conditions they must follow discussed below.

As stated, while on felony probation, they will be required to have regular monthly meetings with an assigned probation officer who is responsible for monitoring their progress and adherence with the conditions set by the judge.

If defendant violates the conditions, the judge has the discretion to revoke probation and send them to jail, modify the conditions of probation, or they could just issue a warning and reinstate probation under the same terms.

This article discusses some of the features of felony probation and the potential consequences for violating a grant of felony probation. Our California criminal defense attorneys are providing a review below.

Length of Felony Probation and Early Termination

Felony probation is most often imposed for five years, or 60 months. However, the length of time the defendant spends on probation for a felony case can vary. 

If the defendant timely completes all of their affirmative obligations and presents a compelling reason to do so, the court may be persuaded to grant an early termination of probation. These motions are discretionary and depend on the court finding that it serves the interests of justice to terminate felony probation early.

In other cases, the court may be persuaded that it is appropriate after a certain amount of time to reduce the defendant's charge of conviction to a misdemeanor and convert formal probation to misdemeanor, or summary probation. 

Note that this is only possible in the case of “wobbler,” offenses – those which can be either felonies or misdemeanors under California law – or where the parties specifically agreed to such a change in a negotiated plea agreement.

Conditions of Felony Probation

The defendant must accept a grant of felony probation along with the conditions attached thereto. These conditions vary from case to case and depend both on the offense conduct which led to the conviction and to the particular characteristics of the defendant such as prior criminal history. 

The court has broad discretion in fashioning conditions of probation which are designed to promote the defendant's rehabilitation. However, certain conditions are frequently imposed in felony cases. Some common felony conditions of probation include:

  • Monthly meetings with probation officer
  • Submit to drug or alcohol testing
  • Perform community service
  • Participate in counseling or group therapy
  • Submit to searches by probation or police
  • Pay restitution and fines
  • Agreement to not violate any laws

Felony probation often includes the requirement to either serve county jail time, complete community labor days, or both.

While incarceration occurs in the case of a jail time condition, the sentence is still technically a probationary one as opposed to a custodial one. It should be noted that imposition of state prison time, as opposed to county jail time, cannot be a condition of probation. 

In the case of community labor conditions, the defendant will be expected to complete hard labor through a court-approved activity, typically CalTrans cleanup work, graffiti removal, or beach cleanup. 

Additionally, in all felony probation cases, the defendant must pay victim restitution and mandatory court fines and fees. If the fines and fees pose a financial hardship, the defendant can request to have the fines and fees converted to additional community labor days. This is not possible in the case of victim restitution, which must always be paid as a condition of probation.

Felony probation usually has restrictions on moving and travel. If defendant wants to move, they will need to obtain approval from the court. If they want to travel, they will need to get consent form their probation officer.

Violating Felony Probation

If a defendant fails to abide by the conditions of felony probation, including most importantly the condition to obey all laws by remaining arrest-free while on probation, the defendant faces a probation violation

The defendant has the right to litigate an allegation that they have violated probation in a contested hearing before a judge. This is an evidentiary hearing at which the judge may hear live testimony, review documents, and hear legal argument from the prosecutor and defense counsel. 

A felony probationer's exposure if found in violation of the terms of probation is substantial as the judge has the power to impose any sentence when revoking probation up to the maximum on the underlying felony crime. 

In felony cases, by their very nature, this means that a defendant found in violation of formal probation can face substantial time in the California state prison.

As stated, judges also have the power to reinstate probation either on the same terms and conditions or with appropriate modifications which recognize the defendant's violation but also give the defendant a second chance to perform well on probation. 

Imposition of additional community labor or jail time is typical in these cases. If the defendant performs well on probation and completes probation with no violations, they will often be entitled to an expungement of their conviction under California law. This provides a strong incentive to successfully complete probation.

Formal probation differs from summary probation for misdemeanor cases in that the defendant is supervised directly by the probation department and must check in periodically. Maintaining a good rapport with the probation officer is therefore crucial to successful completion of probation.

Contact Eisner Gorin LLP for Help

If you, or someone you know, requires counsel concerning a grant of formal or felony probation in California state court, contact our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation. 

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm with a team of highly skilled lawyers with decades of combined experience.

We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is adjacent to the Van Nuys Superior Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our firm to review the details of your case at (310) 328-3776.

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

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