When a person is charged with the commission of a less serious crime, he or she is often charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted of a misdemeanor, he or she may be subject to a length of incarceration of up to one year in most cases. A more popular option with many courts is to sentence the defendant to misdemeanor probation. Probation is a length of time that the court has jurisdiction and supervision over the defendant in lieu of incarceration.
Many judicial systems divide crimes into two basic categories: felonies and misdemeanors. This system is used in most common law countries throughout the world, including the United States. Felony crimes are more serious in nature, such as burglary, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Less serious crimes, such as driving on a suspended license, shoplifting, or possession of a small amount of marijuana, are classified as misdemeanors. In most cases, the maximum possible sentence for a misdemeanor does not exceed one year in jail. More frequently, a defendant is sentenced to complete a period of misdemeanor probation when convicted in lieu of a jail or prison sentence.
The length of a defendant's misdemeanor probation is determined by the judge or by agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor. If the defendant was convicted at trial, then the judge will determine the sentence. If the defendant signed a plea agreement, then the plea agreement will specify the length and terms of the probation. It is common for a misdemeanor probation term to run between six months and one year.
The terms of misdemeanor probation may vary depending on the jurisdiction, the defendant's criminal history, and the crime for which he or she was convicted. In all cases, one of the terms is that the defendant not get re-arrested for another crime during the term of probation. Other common terms or requirements include completing a designated number of hours of community service work; completion of classes such as anger management or substance abuse education; payment of all fines, costs, and restitution; and reporting to the probation department on a monthly basis.
Violation of misdemeanor probation can have serious consequences. If a defendant violates any of the terms of probation, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest. If the judge agrees that the defendant violated probation, then the judge may extend the length of the probation, add addition terms to the probation, or revoke the probation and sentence the defendant to jail or prison. Successful completion of misdemeanor probation, on the other hand, may lead to the option to expunge the record of conviction at a later date.