Being on probation is never easy, and working with the range of personalities and standards of probation officers can make things even harder. No matter who your probation officer is, or what standards they have for you during your term of probation, you must take its terms and conditions very seriously and work together with them.
The attorneys at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman have decades of criminal law experience at all stages of the criminal justice system’s processes, including probation. Our New Jersey criminal lawyer will work to help you fully understand the terms of your probation and the status of your criminal case. Our goal is to have the best possible outcome not just for your case, but for your life. Being in the criminal justice system can be a transformative experience, and working successfully with your probation officer can be a key part of this change.
Understanding What It Means to Be On Probation
As the New Jersey Courts explains, “Probation is a court sentence that allows certain [individuals] to stay in the community under the supervision of a probation officer.” Judges can choose to impose probation in appropriate cases handled in New Jersey’s criminal and municipal courts. When you are on probation, you must strictly comply with the terms set by the judge, and if you fail to do so, you will risk being sent to jail or prison.
Being on probation means having to report to a probation officer. Maintaining a good relationship with your probation officer is extremely important. It is equally important to follow the requirements of probation and your probation officer’s instructions. With this in mind, here are five tips for working with your probation officer in New Jersey.
Be Careful About What You Write and Say
Just like you, probation officers have full access to social media and the internet. Many probation officers keep track of the people in their caseload by monitoring social media. If you are on social media, presume that your probation officer may be able to find and read everything. Use common sense, and do not write about illegal or inappropriate activities, or show disrespect towards the criminal justice system.
Think Long-Term and Build a Positive Relationship
Building a strong and positive relationship with your probation officer could be very beneficial down the road, especially if you are facing long-term involvement with the criminal justice system. As part of the system, their opinion and assessment are given credence by the court, and their thoughts regarding your behavior and compliance with the terms of your probation could play a key role in persuading the court to permit you to have your probation ended early.
If You Have Questions, Ask Them
If you have any doubts or concerns about what information you should share with your probation officer or what activities you can engage in while on probation, you should ask your probation officer for their opinion or permission. It is much better to be safe than sorry, and this will show your probation officer that you are taking the process seriously.
Remember the Consequences of Violating Probation
Probation is a form of punishment and monitoring for criminal charges. Time on probation must be taken and served as seriously as time in jail or prison. Indeed, time spent on probation is considered part of a criminal conviction sentence just like time spent in a jail or prison. Violating terms of your probation and having problems with your probation officer could result in consequences as severe as being sent to jail or prison.
Be Available and Accessible as Needed
Your probation officer holds tremendous power in assessing your reformation and progress during your time on probation. For this reason, you should work to facilitate a positive and functional working relationship. Make sure that you are available to answer calls from your probation officer, and get back in touch quickly if you are unable to pick up the phone. Show your probation officer your best self and the utmost courtesy.
5 Mistakes To Avoid While On Probation To Make Completing Your Probation As Easy As Possible
In addition to following these tips, here are some mistakes you will want to avoid while you are on probation. For example:
1. Not Knowing the Terms of Your Probation
Knowing all the terms that control your freedom is extremely important when you are on probation. A violation of any of the terms of your probation, even accidentally or unknowingly, could lead to problems with your probation officer.
2. Not Planning to Meet the Terms of Your Probation
Meeting the terms of your probation requires planning. You need to plan to be on time for your community service and drug tests, you need to plan to attend all mandatory counseling, and you need to plan to meet with your probation officer as required. Keeping a calendar on your phone is a good idea, and if you need transportation, you should be sure to arrange your ride in advance.
3. Not Documenting Your Compliance
As you work through your probation period, you should get in the habit of documenting your compliance. For example, if you apply for a job or go for a job interview, write this down so that you don’t forget to tell your probation officer. Keep any records or receipts you receive as well. The more you can do to show that you are taking your probation seriously, the better.
4. Assuming “Minor” Violations Won’t Be a Big Deal
Too often, people get into trouble because they assume that “minor” probation violations won’t be a big deal. For example, they might meet up with someone they aren’t supposed to contact, or they might choose to have just one drink. However, when you are on probation, even these “minor” violations are serious. Committing minor probation violations, aside from possibly leading to a complaint and judicial determination of guilt of a charged violation indicates that you are not dedicated to your rehabilitation, and it might make your probation officer suspect that you are committing other, more serious, violations as well.
5. Assuming Your Probation Officer Won’t Find Something Out
Similarly, if you miss an appointment or do something you shouldn’t, you should not assume that your probation officer won’t find out. If you do something wrong and try to hide it, your situation could become even riskier. Sometimes, if you have done something wrong, you might become confused. Also, fear or panic can lead to bad decision-making. If you have concerns or doubts about what to do, it makes sense to consult with your lawyer rather than hope that your mistake will go away.
8 Tips for Successfully Completing Your Probation
In addition to knowing how to interact with your probation officer and understanding the mistakes you need to avoid, there are also several tips you can follow to make the process of successfully completing your probation easier. Here are 10 tips for successfully completing your probation in New Jersey from our attorneys:
1. Take Your Probation Seriously
One of the simplest and most-important tips we can give you is to take your probation seriously. Your probation is essentially a second chance to stay out of jail, and you do not want to blow it. So, as we said above, make sure you know the terms of your probation, focus on building a positive relationship with your probation officer, and make a plan so that you can satisfy the terms of your probation.
2. Create a Calendar
One way you can plan to satisfy the terms of your probation is to create a calendar. On your calendar, write down everything you need to do and when you need to do it. Knowing that you have community service on a particular date won’t help if you don’t know what time you need to show up. If you know your obligations in advance, you can make arrangements for transportation and avoid any scheduling conflicts that might tempt you to violate probation.
3. Document Your Community Service and Other Activities
Just to be safe, you should get in the habit of documenting your community service and any other activities you complete as part of your probation. In addition to keeping a list of notes, a good way to do this is to take photos at the beginning and end of each activity. This will show where you were and how long you were there.
4. Stay Out of Trouble
Getting pulled over, getting arrested and even getting approached by the police can all create problems for your probation. While you are on probation, you need to do everything you possibly can to stay out of trouble. Drive carefully (if you have your license), follow the law and extricate yourself from any potentially risky situations.
5. Choose Your Friends Wisely
Choosing your friends wisely will help you stay out of trouble while you are on probation. If you spend time with people who are prone to getting in trouble, this will increase your risk of getting in trouble as well.
6. Keep a Positive Attitude
Being on probation can be frustrating. There is no doubt about it. Even so, it is important to keep a positive attitude when talking to your probation officer. Negativity breeds negativity, and you don’t want to give your probation officer any reason to report a violation.
7. Make Your Probation Officer’s Job as Easy as Possible
Ultimately, successfully completing probation is all about making your probation officer’s job as easy as possible. If you comply with the terms of your probation, and if you can show that you have complied with the terms of your probation, your probation officer should have no problem reporting that you have completed your probation successfully.
8. Complete All Obligation and Pay All Fines
If you pay all your fines and complete your obligations successfully, you should ask your probation officer to ask the court to terminate your probation early (after you have completed half the term of probation). If your probation officer is not willing to do so, you should consult with an attorney about filing a motion to terminate your probation early.
Succeed in Probation With the Help of a New Jersey Criminal Lawyer
Probation officers are not always the easiest people to work with, and no two officers are the same. However, working with a probation officer isn’t like working with a friend or colleague. Your entire freedom and criminal record are at stake in this relationship. If you are facing challenges with your probation officer, or just wish to learn more and get more perspective on your situation, a New Jersey criminal lawyer at our firm is here for you. This is one relationship you don’t want to go wrong. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help or to get a second option from our team of experienced New Jersey criminal attorneys. Contact us now.
Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.