In the state of New York, probation is one of the sentencing options available to judges in certain criminal cases. A sentence of probation may be imposed as an alternative to a prison term. In the state of New York, probation is supervised by each county’s probation department, although in New York City, the probation department is operated by the city government. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about probation in New York.

However, the answers to these questions can only be general answers about probation, because the details of every case will be different. If you are accused of a crime in Yonkers, Peekskill, or anywhere in the state of New York, an experienced Westchester County criminal defense lawyer can explain how probation works in this state and address all of your other legal questions and concerns.

Q: How does probation work in Westchester County?

A: In Westchester County and throughout the state of New York, if you are convicted of certain crimes, before you can be sentenced to probation, you will be asked to agree to and sign a “Conditions of Probation” form. If you receive a criminal sentence in Westchester County that includes probation, you must fully obey all of the terms and conditions of the probation, or you may face a violation of probation or “VOP” charge and the possibility of time behind bars.

Those terms and conditions of probation usually include finding and keeping a job or attending school, routinely reporting to a probation officer, avoiding any criminal acquaintances, and being the target of unwarranted searches and random drug tests. The state takes probation quite seriously, and since probationers have already been convicted of a crime, violations of probation are penalized with no leniency in Westchester County and through the state of New York.

Q. What are the differences between parole and probation?

A. When someone is found guilty of certain criminal charges in New York, probation is one of the penalties that may be imposed. Probation allows a convicted offender to stay in his or her community under terms specified by the court and requiring the supervision of a probation officer.

Parole is early release from state custody, and it must be approved by a parole board. A parolee serves what remains of his or her sentence back in his or her community and under a parole officer’s supervision.

Q. Isn’t probation just a way the system coddles criminals?

A. Not at all. Adults and juveniles who are placed on probation are closely supervised. They must adhere to the law and work or attend school. Probationers must report routinely to a probation officer, and probation officers may visit their homes. Probation frequently includes restitution and/or community service. Probationers with a history of drug or alcohol issues, sexual abuse, and psychiatric or psychological problems are required to seek treatment.

Q. What kinds of crimes are typically penalized with probation?

A. Defendants convicted of the following crimes are frequently sentenced to probation: theft, fraud, burglary, larceny, and robbery; driving while intoxicated (DWI); drug possession and drug sales; simple assault; criminal mischief; illegal possession of firearms; endangering the welfare of a child; and repeatedly driving without a license. In family courts in New York, adults may be sentenced to probation for committing an act of domestic violence.

Q. Can sex offenders be placed on probation?

A. Yes. In fact, a majority of convicted sex offenders in Westchester County are ordered to serve a term of probation. The Department of Probation operates a nationally-recognized sex offender program that closely supervises offenders and offers appropriate treatment.

The Department of Probation supervises convicted juveniles as well as adult sex offenders. Group therapy and individual therapy are offered, while polygraph examinations, computer forensics, and routine surveillance of offenders are used with probationers to maximize the public’s safety.

Q. Precisely what is “restitution” in New York law?

A. Restitution is reimbursement that a convicted offender pays to crime victims to compensate those victims for the losses, damages, or injuries that result from a crime. In Westchester County, the probation department collects and disburses restitution funds gathered from probationers in the county.

Q. What happens if someone violates the terms of his or her probation?

A. When a probation officer has a reason to believe that a probationer has violated the conditions of his or her probation, the court is notified, and the probationer may be ordered to appear at a VOP (violation of probation) hearing.

It’s important in VOP cases for a probationer/defendant to be represented by an experienced Westchester County criminal defense lawyer. In some cases, a good attorney may be able to persuade the judge that no violation of probation took place.

If the court determines that a probationer is guilty of a violation of probation, the court:

– may continue the probation under the same terms and conditions
– may add additional terms and conditions to the probation
– may order the probationer to jail or prison

Q: Can a probationer request an early release from probation?

A: In New York, anyone who is serving probation may ask the court for an early discharge. When a probationer meets certain requirements, the Department of Probation may request an early discharge on his or her behalf. Only the court, however, has the authority to approve an early discharge from probation. Probationers should discuss early release with their probation officers and attorneys.

Q: What if I need to travel outside of New York for a family emergency?

A: Probationers who are in good standing may be approved to travel inside the United States for family emergencies. The probationer must seek prior authorization for the trip if time allows, and he or she must provide the probation officer with complete details and verification about any out-of-state travel.

Q: What happens if someone who is serving probation is charged with another crime?

A: While someone is a probationer in New York, if that person is arrested again for any reason, that person must contact his or her probation officer at once and explain what has happened. Anyone placed under arrest for any criminal charge should also contact an experienced Westchester County criminal defense lawyer immediately.

If you have been convicted of a crime in New York, and if you have received probation instead of going to jail or prison, take advantage of the chance that you are being offered. If you will continue to follow the terms and conditions of your probation as established by the court, you’ll be able to avoid you the harsher penalties that might have been imposed. Anyone sentenced to probation must avoid criminal activity in the future, because the courts are seldom lenient a second time to the same offender.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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