The primary goal of every criminal defense lawyer is to fight to have the charges against you dismissed outright, or to obtain an acquittal. A secondary goal in criminal defense cases is to keep our clients out of jail, or to at least reduce the amount of time they may have to spend there. Some of the ways to achieve this secondary goal are to negotiate plea bargains to reduce the charges to lesser offenses and to explore the possibility of alternative sentences.
Another way is to argue that our client should be sentenced to probation instead of imprisonment. If a defendant is sentenced to incarceration, we argue that the client should be eligible for what is commonly referred to as a “split” sentence where probation is available after serving a minimal amount of his/her sentence.
Your eligibility for probation or parole is set forth by statute. The conditions of the probation is generally determined by the trial judge. Defendants must comply with specific requirements to continue their eligibility for either probation. If a defendant violates any of these specific conditions, he/she can be sentenced to prison to complete the terms of his/her criminal sentence. Some violations of probation or parole may also result in additional criminal charges.
What is probation?
In order to be sentenced to probation, a defendant must either plead guilty to the criminal charges or must be found guilty by a judge or a jury. In many felony cases and some misdemeanors, crimes are considered too serious to avoid incarceration if you are convicted. If a defendant has a prior criminal record, the odds of a probation sentence are minimal. If violence or a weapon was involved in the crime, the odds or probation are also slim.
Probation is generally used for first-time nonviolent offenses where the offender is not considered a major threat to the community. A judge who sentences a defendant to probation is stating that you can continue to live in your community (with your family) provided you meet the requirements of probation.
What are the terms of probation?
In Tennessee, the terms of probation can vary from county to county and from judge to judge. Common probation terms and conditions include:
- Community service. Instead of spending time in jail, one could be given a set number of hours in which to serve the community. For example, a defendant may be tasked with cleaning up garbage, or helping in a soup kitchen.
- Restitution for any damages. Restitution is the legal word for paying back. For example, if a defendant shoplifts a jacket, the defendant either needs to return the jacket or pay the value of the jacket.
- Fines and penalties. Fines are usually determined by the type of criminal charge. Fees often encompass court costs, though there may be other fees (such as installing an ignition interlock device for a DUI conviction.) Periodic repayment plans may be possible.
- Mandatory counseling sessions or mandatory educational programs. This condition is often common if probation is ordered for a person charged with an alcohol or drug offense. Anger management courses may be ordered in domestic abuse cases and other cases.
- Reporting to a probation officer. If you are sentenced to probation, you will be assigned a probation officer. The officer will regularly meet with you, check on your living and work arrangements, and address other concerns about your productivity within the community.
- You may be required to stay away from certain people. Your right to possess a weapon may be limited or ended. Other limitations may apply.
- Good behavior. During your probation period, you need to stay out of legal trouble. If you are arrested for any crime, your probation may be revoked.
- Drug and alcohol testing. Random tests may be required as part of your probation.
How does parole work in Tennessee?
Parole is different than probation. Parole means that someone who is serving a prison sentence can be released from prison before their sentence ends – provided they comply with specific conditions. The time a convicted person is eligible for parole is normally set by the sentencing judge. Eligibility for parole is generally determined by a parole board. The criminal justice system encourages early release as a reward for good behavior while a person is in prison.
The parole board will review many factors to determine if you are eligible for parole including:
- The terms of your sentence
- Your behavior while in prison
- Where and with whom you’ll stay if you are released on parole
- Your opportunity for employment if you are released
- Your prior criminal history
- Your family circumstances
- Whether you acknowledge that you committed the offense and show remorse for the harm caused by the offense
You may be eligible for parole if you committed a violent offense, but you will normally have to serve a longer time in prison before you can apply for parole. You will also need to provide evidence and reasons why you are no longer a threat to use violence if you are released.
If a defendant is released from prison, the parole board will impose many specific conditions – similar to the conditions for probation. The defendant will meet with a parole officer instead of a probation officer. Parolees may be ordered not to leave the county, the state, or a specific geographical area without permission.
If a person violates parole, then he/she will likely be ordered to serve the rest of his/her sentence in jail. If the parolee is charged with committing a crime, he/she will need to defend the new charges with the help of an experienced Sevierville criminal defense lawyer.
Generally, your Fourth Amendment rights regarding searches do not apply while you’re on probation or parole.
About the Tennessee Board of Parole
Tennessee has a distinct Board of Parole that schedules parole hearings which are generally available to the public. Prisons have their own Institutional Probation and Parole Officers. Generally, witnesses who wish to testify on behalf of the offender and behalf of the victim are given the right to testify at a parole hearing.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our criminal defense lawyers fight to obtain probation or alternative sentences during sentencing hearings. We fight for parole if you or someone you care for is in prison. Our lawyers contest efforts to end your probation or parole. We also advocate for anyone charged with new criminal offenses while they are on probation or parole. Our Sevierville criminal defense lawyers also represent defendants in Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding areas. To speak with an experienced criminal attorney who has earned the respect of the legal community, call us at (865) 428-8780 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.