Probation is a valuable tool in the New Jersey criminal justice system, one that benefits both the state and defendants. For the state, it provides a means of reducing the prison population while still punishing offenders and holding them accountable for further offenses. For defendants, the benefits should be obvious: probation is always a better sentence than a jail or prison term.
Probation isn't a “get out of jail free” card, though. The state of New Jersey will place conditions on your probation. At a minimum, you're barred from re-offending or committing any other crimes. You might be required to go through treatment, to meet regularly with your probation officer, or to avoid certain locations or people. Any mistake or violation of the terms of your probation can lead to a prison sentence; the very thing probation allowed you to avoid in the first place.
If you're in Bergen County, New Jersey, and you've been assigned probation, you probably have questions. If you've been accused of violating your probation, you need help defending yourself from the charges and avoiding jail time. The Lento Law Firm is here to help. The firm's Criminal Defense Team wants to make sure you're treated fairly and that you get the very best possible resolution to your case. They can help you navigate the Bergen County system, and they are fierce advocates any time your rights are threatened.
In 2021-2022, Bergen County listed 3,587 individuals on probation. If you're one of them, it's important you know where probation issues are handled.
The Bergen Superior Court is located at the Bergen County Justice Center:
10 Main Street
Hackensack, NJ 07601
Probation services for both adult and child supervision are located in the center as well. You can reach the center by dialing 201-221-0700.
It's just as important that you know how to get help. The Lento Law Firm can assign anyone located in Bergen County with probation issues. That includes residents in
- Tea Neck
- Fort Lee
- Fair Lawn
- Cliffside Park
- Palisades Park
What Is Probation?
Probation is a court sentence. That is, it is issued because you've been convicted of a crime. While probation often means you won't have to serve a jail or prison sentence, you'll still have a criminal record. Once you've been convicted of a crime, the only way to remove that conviction from your record is to have that record expunged.
Likewise, it's important you recognize that probation is a punishment. It's designed to help you avoid incarceration, but it still holds you accountable for your past actions, and it is meant to serve as a deterrent to future offenses.
Probation is assigned for a set period of time, up to five years. During this time period, you must follow all the conditions of your probation. By far, the most important of these is the requirement that you not commit an additional offense. Any violation of any condition, though—even something as small as missing a mandated therapy appointment—can result in the revocation of your probation and the imposition of a jail or prison term. Generally, you're assigned a probation officer who handles your case and who is primarily responsible for making sure you fulfill all your conditions.
Finally, there are other types of criminal supervision programs as well. For example, convicted persons who have been incarcerated can gain “parole,” which allows them to return to the community. Like individuals on probation, those on parole must meet a set of specific conditions in order to avoid returning to prison. In contrast, however, probation is generally given in place of a jail or prison sentence.
Probation also differs from what is known as “Conditional Discharge.” Conditional discharges are usually only available to first-time offenders who have committed minor offenses. In these cases, the convicted defendant can get the charges against them dismissed by completing certain conditions, such as attending alcoholic anonymous for a period of time or agreeing to counseling sessions.
Typical Conditions of Probation
Ultimately, the judge in your case can set virtually any condition on your probation. Typical conditions, though, include
- Agreeing not to commit any additional crimes
- Obtaining and maintaining gainful employment
- Agreeing not to possess any weapons
- Completing job or vocational training
- Agreeing not to associate with certain individuals—other convicted felons, for instance
- Meeting regularly with a probation officer
- Keeping probation officers apprised of any changes to your work or living situations, such as address changes
- Completion of a community service program
- Agreeing to restrictions on internet access or to having that access monitored
- Maintenance of family obligations such as child support
- Submitting to health assessments, such as regular drug screenings
- Participation in individual or group therapy programs
In addition, you may be required to pay fines or restitution for your actions. At a minimum, the state assesses $25.00 for participation in the probation program, though you can file for a waiver if you meet the definition of “indigent.”
The most common reason why probation is revoked is for the commission of additional crimes. Again, any violation of your conditions can get you into trouble, but the courts generally have some flexibility when it comes to fulfilling clerical obligations. Missing a therapy session because you're ill may not result in prison time. On the other hand, the courts have zero tolerance when it comes to re-offending.
In New Jersey, minors are subject to a separate system of probation known as Juvenile Probation. Many of the same conditions apply, but if you're the parent of a juvenile offender, you should know that there are some important differences.
- Probation is sometimes available even to minors convicted of first-degree offenses.
- Probation officers should be specifically trained to work with juveniles
- Probation officers are generally more proactive in meeting with minor offenders and helping them access social services
- Probation officers meet with families in addition to the child
- Regular school attendance is almost always a condition of juvenile probation
In Bergen County, the same Probation Services Office handles both adult and juvenile probation.
Should your probation officer determine you have violated the terms of your probation, they fill out a Violation of Probation (VOP) form and submit it to the court. Once that happens, you may be arrested. You'll also have to appear before the judge to defend yourself or explain your actions.
Keep in mind that when you are serving probation, you give up some of your rights. In addition to agreeing to meet certain conditions, your probation officer may have the right to enter and inspect your residence at any time. They may be able to impose sanctions or offer incentives to help you meet the conditions of your probation. In addition, you can be arrested without a warrant should law enforcement have probable cause to believe you've violated your probation in some way. And you can be held without bail until your scheduled hearing.
You have fewer rights in court, as well. For example, the standard of guilt in probation cases isn't the same as it was in your criminal trial. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That's a relatively high burden. In probation cases, the standard is “preponderance of the evidence.” In simple terms, this standard requires judges to find you guilty if they are more than fifty percent convinced you violated your probation.
The good news is you're still entitled to legal representation. That means someone from the Lento Law Firm Team can be at your side from the moment you are arrested. In fact, you should contact the firm any time you suspect your probation officer might be considering a VOP.
An attorney from the Lento Law Firm Team can work with you to build a defense, help you gather evidence, and, of course, represent you at any hearings or other judicial proceedings. Most importantly, they can ensure your due process rights are respected every step of the way. You have given up some rights while you're on probation, but that doesn't mean you've given up all of them. An attorney from the Lento Law Firm Team can help you navigate the complexities of this system.
How to Respond
An arrest for a probation violation can happen at any time. We all make mistakes, of course, and we all deserve the chance for fair treatment, including fair punishments when we've made mistakes. You don't actually have to violate your probation to find yourself accused, though. You could be entirely innocent, the accusation could be the result of a misunderstanding, or you could simply have made an honest mistake that doesn't warrant an arrest.
Of course, should you be arrested for a probation violation, it can be upsetting. It can come without warning, especially if you haven't actually violated your probation. It means your freedom from incarceration is in jeopardy. It means you're going to be forced to go back to court. You could wind up remanded to jail until you have a chance to go to court.
It's important, though, that you respond appropriately to the situation. Should you overreact or, for example, try to resist arrest, that in itself can be treated as a probation violation. At a minimum, it can be used against you during your probation hearing. In the worst cases, it can add additional charges.
How can you avoid making your situation worse?
- React calmly. Any time you're faced with law enforcement, it's important you be as reasonable and cooperative as possible. Keep in mind, though, that because you're on probation, you've already given up some of your rights. Telling officers they can't enter your home or that they're not allowed to search your vehicle won't help your situation, and it may actually be a violation of your conditions. You're very likely to be upset and stressed, and if you cannot keep your emotions in check, the best response is to do nothing and say nothing.
- Say nothing without an attorney present. One of your most important rights is the right to “remain silent.” As the Miranda Warning goes on to say, anything you say “can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Don't give law enforcement and prosecutors any extra ammunition. They will misconstrue what you say if they possibly can. Instead, take advantage of another important right—your right to an attorney. Call the Criminal Defense team at the Lento Law Firm and let them speak for you or, at the very least, advise you what to say.
- Contact the Lento Law Firm immediately. If you know you're going to be arrested, contact the firm before it happens so they can be on hand. Certainly, though, your first call after an arrest should be to the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm. They can respond to questions on your behalf and generally ensure you're treated fairly.
Getting Help for Probation Issues in Bergen County, New Jersey
Probation can be a valuable alternative to jail or prison time. Make no mistake, though: being on probation can be a stressful situation. You've agreed to give up some of your rights; you've agreed to limit some of your behaviors; and your Probation Office can decide to accuse you of violating your probation at any time.
When that happens, you need the best help you can get. You need an attorney from the Lento Law Firm. The Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team is well-versed in New Jersey's probation law. In addition, they have experience defending clients in Bergen County. They know your rights under the law, and they know how to use those rights to your advantage.