First, let’s define probation:
Probation is granted by a judge in place of jail time. So rather than going to jail, probation releases you into the community — under certain conditions that are intended to prevent you from committing another crime. A person sentenced to probation generally receives a jail sentence that is “stayed” for a certain period and on certain conditions.
For instance, a judge may pronounce a sentence of 90 days in jail, but then stay the sentence for a period of one year on the condition that, among many options, the person pay a fine and have no contact with a victim of the crime. In that instance, the 90 days is not served but is considered “hanging over the defendant’s head.” If during the probation period the defendant fails to pay the fine or contacts the victim, the defendant can be brought back to court and, if they are found in violation, be required to serve all or a portion of the 90 days that were stayed.
Probation can either be supervised or unsupervised.
Supervised probation is, simply, probation that is “supervised” by a probation officer or the Department of Corrections. This means that you must report to that person on a regular basis, and they will monitor your progress, assist when needed, and ensure you are complying with the conditions of your probation.
Unsupervised probation, also known as informal probation or probation to the court, is generally granted for minor crimes or first offenses where supervised probation is considered unnecessary.
Unsupervised probation still requires you meet certain conditions. The only difference is that you’re not assigned a probation officer who directly supervises you — instead, you must self-report to prove your compliance with your probation conditions.
Probation is often a more preferable outcome to jail time, and a strong legal defense can make it more likely you will be granted a probationary sentence instead of jail time. However, certain types of crimes in Minnesota aren’t eligible for probation at all, such as violent crimes, especially if this is a repeated offense.
That said, it is possible to get probation for many crimes, even felony-level crimes — however, the more severe the crime, the less likely it is that you will be able to get probation. And with felony-level crimes, probation is almost always going to be supervised.
Supervised vs. unsupervised probation
Supervised probation is more common and recognized than unsupervised probation. Under supervised probation, you are responsible for reporting to your probation officer. This means keeping them informed about:
- Your employer
- Your current address
- How many hours of community service you’ve completed
- Whether and when you are attending any education or treatment programs
The conditions of your probation dictate what else you may need to report to your probation officer.
With unsupervised probation, you won’t have to report to a probation officer at all. It’s important to note, however, that the conditions of your probation could still be the same.
Who is eligible for unsupervised probation?
You are most likely to be granted unsupervised probation if you’ve been convicted of a nonviolent, low-level felony or misdemeanor — or if you’re a first-time offender.
That said, supervised probation may still be a possibility in place of jail time for those who aren’t eligible for unsupervised probation. This is where your criminal defense attorney comes in — helping to make sure you get the best possible outcome, regardless of the charges against you.
You can increase your chances of receiving probation by taking action between your arrest and sentencing. Actions that can strengthen your case include:
- Supporting your family
- Being active in your community
- Maintaining gainful employment
- Voluntarily submitting yourself for professional chemical and mental health assessments and completing any recommended programing
In many cases, unsupervised probation may be granted after a period of supervised probation (assuming that you haven’t violated the conditions of your probation up to that point). Therefore, if you aren’t eligible for unsupervised probation at the time of your sentencing, you may have another opportunity to qualify later.
Probation of either type is granted by a judge, who will review your case and criminal history to make their decision. They will also set the length of the probationary period. In Minnesota, most probationary periods are capped at five years.
If you were sentenced to a probationary period prior to 2023 that was longer than five years, you may now be eligible to have your term reduced — for more information on how to get your probationary period shortened, reach out to us here.
Even though it’s no longer possible to be sentenced to 40 years probation for a drug offense, it’s still very important to have a criminal defense lawyer on your side who can fight for your freedom in an often unfair and punitive legal system. A defense lawyer can negotiate more than just the length of your probation — they can also make sure the conditions of your probation are fair and achievable.
Conditions of unsupervised probation
As we said, probation of either type carries with it certain conditions that you must meet in order to stay out of jail. These conditions vary depending on the nature of your crime.
Conditions can include:
- Maintaining a curfew
- Not contacting the victim
- Performing community service
- Allowing home or employer visits
- Submitting to random drug or alcohol testing
- Not using, selling, or possessing alcohol or drugs
- Submitting to search and seizure of property or vehicle
- Not contacting any people who have committed crimes
- Maintaining employment (or actively seeking employment)
- Not possessing any type of weapon or firearm, even a knife
- Attending counseling, such as anger management or alcohol counseling
- Not leaving the state without written permission from probation officer
- Remaining within a certain area, or wearing a tracking device such as an ankle monitor
But the biggest, most important condition of every probation is not committing any other crimes.
You may also be assigned special conditions specific to your crime — for example, domestic violence cases or sex offenders will have different probationary conditions than drug cases or DUI offenders.
Whether you are granted supervised or unsupervised probation, you must comply with all of the conditions of your probation in order to stay out of jail.
These conditions will vary, but your defense lawyer can advocate for you to ensure the conditions don’t restrict you unnecessarily. For example, if your conditions prevent you from leaving the state, but you need to travel for work, your attorney can fight to get an exemption made for you.
In some cases, if you are following all the terms of your probation and are making progress, a judge can terminate the probation early. You may even be eligible for an expungement of your criminal record after completing your probation.
What happens if I violate the conditions of my probation?
If there is evidence that you violated the conditions of your probation, the court can revoke your probation at any time.
Some violations of probation are less serious than others, such as failing to pay a court fee or missing a court-ordered appointment. The consequences for these violations may be a warning or an escalation of the conditions of your probation (either by changing the conditions or placing you on supervised probation if you were unsupervised).
But for serious violations, such as failing a drug test or committing a new crime, you will face more serious consequences. If you’ve committed a crime, you will not only be subject to punishment for that new crime, but you will also be subject to additional penalties for violating your probation — which could include retroactively serving jail time or paying fines that had been stayed in exchange for probation.
What are the benefits of unsupervised probation?
Unsupervised probation is desirable because it has the fewest rules and restrictions, and allows you the most freedoms and the closest return to a normal life.
For example, if you are granted unsupervised probation following a DUI, you can avoid random alcohol testing and intensive monitoring requirements that can get in the way of your life. Similarly, unsupervised probation for a drug crime means that you may not need to submit to random drug tests.
That said, you should be careful to avoid any activity that could put you in a position to violate the terms of your probation or commit another crime. If you drink and drive while on unsupervised probation, you risk not only facing the original consequences of your previous crime, but the additional punishment of the new crime.
With unsupervised probation, you will not have to regularly meet with your probation officer. You will also save money on supervision fees. The conditions of your probation may also be less severe (but not always). But don’t let the lack of supervision lull you into thinking that the conditions don’t exist. Whether supervised or unsupervised, if the judge becomes aware of a violation of the conditions, there may be serious consequences.
Probation vs. parole
Parole is very similar to probation, but parole involves allowing a person who has already been incarcerated for a part of their criminal sentence to be released early into the community, whereas probation is granted as an alternative to incarceration.
If you’ve served part of your sentence in prison, parole enables you to return to the community as long as you comply with certain conditions. If you violate the terms of your parole, you will likely be returned to prison to serve out the balance of your sentence.
Is probation better than going to jail?
Probation is absolutely preferable to a jail sentence for nearly everyone. Even though you are required to follow specific rules and restrictions, you are able to remain in the community and maintain far more freedoms than those in jail — such as going to work and being with your family.
A qualified criminal attorney will give you the best chance at being granted probation over jail time.
How long is probation in Minnesota?
Probationary periods for felony crimes in Minnesota are generally capped at five years. For gross misdemeanors, they are generally capped at two years and for misdemeanors, generally one year. There are exceptions to all these periods for certain offenses. The length of your probation is determined by the sentencing judge who makes their decision based on the facts of your case and your criminal history.
When your probationary period ends, your probation is over. Your probation will still appear on your record during background checks as an arrest, however. To truly leave this period behind you, you will need to seek expungement of your record.
How a criminal defense attorney can help
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Minnesota, you may be eligible for probation. A criminal defense attorney can help you craft the strongest possible defense so you get the best chance at staying out of jail.
Our firm’s goal? Getting your charges dismissed, or at least reduced. A conviction can alter the course of your life — our goal is to make sure your past doesn’t ruin your future. You deserve a full life and access to all of your freedoms.
If you’re ready to get back in the driver’s seat of your own life, contact us for a free consultation.