The New Jersey probation system is a vital part of the state's larger criminal justice system. It provides the state with a way to punish offenders without putting undue pressure on New Jersey prisons. If you're a defendant or a convicted felon, it provides you with the chance to retain your freedom even while you serve a sentence.
Make no mistake, though: you are serving a sentence. Though you are not restricted to a jail cell when you're on probation, you do face many other restrictions. You might be required, for example, to go through a treatment program. You might be barred from visiting certain locations or from meeting with certain people. At a minimum, you'll be required to meet regularly with a probation officer, and should you re-offend, you'll almost certainly wind up in jail.
If you've been assigned probation in Essex County, New Jersey, you likely have questions about the system. If you've been charged with violating your probation, you need help defending yourself. No matter what your situation, the Lento Law Firm handles all cases involving probation. The firm's Criminal Defense Team can advise you on how to navigate the Essex County system. They act quickly any time a client is facing charges. And in all cases, they'll ensure your rights are protected, and you get the best possible resolution to your situation.
With over 800,000 residents, Essex is the third largest county in New Jersey and is a part of the greater New York metropolitan area. Of those 800,000 residents, about 450 are currently serving a probationary sentence.
If you're one of those 450, it's important you know exactly where the Essex County Superior Court is located.
Evergreen Place 60
East Orange, NJ 07018
You'll find probation services for both adult and child supervision in the same building, and you can reach this office by calling 973-776-9300.
The Orange County office handles probation for cities across Essex County, including:
- East Orange
- Short Hills
- Cedar Grove
- Glen Ridge
- West Orange
- South Orange
It's equally important you know how to get legal help. No matter what city you're in, the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm can help you handle any probation issues. We know the system in Essex County, and we're active in all the county's many communities.
What Is Probation?
Probation is a court sentence. It's typically issued in place of a jail or prison sentence, though some convicted persons are given a “split sentence” of jail time and probation. In either case, you have been convicted of a crime, and that will appear on your record unless you go through New Jersey's expungement process at some later date. Probation does not take the place of a conviction. Here are some other important things to know about probation.
- Probation lasts for a set period of time, up to five years. During that time, any further criminal conviction violates the terms of your probation and will result in incarceration.
- Your probation may come with other conditions as well. Your probation can also be revoked for violating any of these. Even something as small as a missed therapy appointment can get you sent to jail if that appointment is mandated by the courts.
- A probation officer is assigned to your specific case, and they monitor your activities throughout your probation. You may be required to meet with them regularly, and you're always required to provide them with updated information when you move or change jobs.
There are other types of criminal supervision as well.
- A convicted person serving a prison sentence might be released early under “parole” conditions. As with probation, parole allows such individuals the freedom to return to their community but sets certain conditions on their behavior.
- Under “Conditional Discharge,” first-time offenders are sometimes given a “probationary” sentence. Under this sentence, they can ultimately get their charges dismissed if they fulfill the conditions of their “discharge.” This is a common sentence in drug and alcohol cases.
The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are experienced at handling all types of supervision cases and can help you build a defense no matter what kind of violation you're accused of having committed.
Typical Conditions of Probation
Judges have wide latitude when it comes to setting the conditions of supervision. Most often, though, conditions include things like
- Obtaining and maintaining gainful employment
- Giving up access to any weapon
- Attending job or vocational training
- Restrictions on associating with certain individuals, especially those with criminal records
- Meeting regularly with a probation officer
- Completing a set number of community service hours
- Restrictions on internet access
- 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, the state requires all participants to pay a $25.00 fee to participate in the program, though indigent participants can qualify for a waiver. And, of course, beyond probation, your sentence may also include fines or restitution, and you may have to pay these before you can meet the conditions of supervision.
Unfortunately, the most common reason judges revoke probation is because the individual has committed another crime. Violating the conditions of your probation can certainly get you into serious trouble and may even result in jail or prison time. Often, though, a small mistake—like missing a therapy session—won't send you to jail. In contrast, courts have almost no tolerance for those who re-offend or who commit new offenses.
Not all offenders are adults. If you're a minor and commit an offense in New Jersey, you're subject to the state's Juvenile Probation system.
In Essex County, juvenile probation is administered through the same probation office. However, there are some significant differences in how minors are treated when on probation.
- Probation is sometimes available even to minors convicted of first-degree offenses. This is rare in adult cases.
- Probation officers should be specifically trained to work with juveniles.
- Probation officers meet with families in addition to the child.
- Probation officers are generally more proactive in meeting with minor offenders and helping them access social services.
- Regular school attendance is almost always a condition of juvenile probation
Any time your probation officer suspects you've violated the terms of your probation, they submit what's known as a Violation of Probation, or VOP form. Once the court receives a VOP, it typically issues a warrant for your arrest. You then have to appear in court to defend your actions.
It's important to remember that probation involves giving up some—though certainly not all—of your Constitutional rights. You've agreed, for example, to meet the conditions of your probation, even if those conditions might violate a non-convicted person's civil liberties. Your probation officer may be empowered to enter and inspect your residence. They may have permission to monitor your internet activity. And they have the authority to impose sanctions or offer incentives where they feel it is appropriate. Most importantly, though, they don't have to be certain you've re-offended in order to request an arrest warrant. If they have probable cause to believe you've violated your probation in any way, you can be arrested and even held without bail until a hearing can be scheduled.
Likewise, you have fewer rights in court. In your original criminal trial, for instance, the prosecutor had to prove you were guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In probation cases, the standard is much lower. It's known as “preponderance of evidence,” and basically, it requires the judge to find you guilty if they are more than fifty percent convinced you violated probation. Defense attorneys often refer to this as the “fifty percent plus a feather” standard.
One right you don't lose when you're on probation, though, is the right to an attorney. Someone from the Lento Law Firm can represent you throughout your case, helping you build your defense and speaking for you in interviews and during hearings. In fact, if you suspect you might be arrested for violating your probation, it's a good idea to contact an attorney from the Lento Law Firm before it happens. They can help minimize the trauma of an arrest and begin negotiating with prosecutors to keep you from having to spend any time in jail.
More important than anything else, a Lento Law Firm attorney can make sure no one violates your due process rights. While it is true that you have fewer rights when you're on probation, that doesn't mean investigators and prosecutors can do as they like. An attorney from the Lento Law Firm can let you know exactly what you can and can't do and can help you navigate the complexities of an arrest and hearing.
How to Respond
An arrest can be an upsetting, stressful event. And, given the low threshold probation officers are required to meet before asking for arrest warrants, they can essentially happen at any time.
Of course, we all make mistakes. If you've made one while on probation, you still deserve fair treatment. The truth, though, is that you don't actually have to have made a mistake to be accused of making a mistake. Or you may have made an honest mistake, one that doesn't warrant an arrest. No matter what the situation, though, it's important you remain calm if officers should show up on your doorstep. It helps to have a plan in place for how you'll handle the situation.
Here are some tips.
- Don't resist. You may be stressed. You may feel the situation is unfair. It's never a good idea, though, to refuse to let officers into your home or to respond to an arrest with threats or violence. And, as a person on probation, you have fewer rights than the average citizen. Work to keep your emotions in check. Try to be reasonable and cooperative. If you're being treated unfairly in any way, you can count on the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm to address the situation. And, again, if you know an arrest might be coming, it's always better to notify us ahead of time.
- Say nothing without an attorney present. One key right you don't give up on when you're on probation is the right to remain silent in the face of charges against you. It's in your best interest to exercise that right. You may be sure you're innocent, but in trying to explain that fact, you could say something that police or prosecutors interpret as a sign of your guilt. Don't risk it. Wait until your Lento Law Firm attorney arrives and let them advise you as to what and what not to say.
- Contact the Lento Law Firm immediately. It should go without saying at this point, but we'll say it anyway. You need legal representation the very moment you're arrested for a probation violation. If someone from the Lento Law Firm isn't there when you're arrested, you need to call the firm as soon as you're given the opportunity. We should be on hand to protect your rights any time those rights are in jeopardy.
Getting Help for Probation Issues in Bergen County, New Jersey
Probation can be a valuable alternative to jail or prison time. It's not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, though. 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're already at a disadvantage. 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.