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Explaining the Difference Between Parole and Probation


People who don’t know the laws in detail often know of similarities, but can on occasion get things confused. For example, many people erroneously use the terms “murder” and “homicide” interchangeably, but the two have an important difference between them. The same goes for “probation” and “parole.”

Both of these legal terms start with the letter “P” and both refer to ways someone who is convicted of a crime can get out of having to serve time in jail while still completing their sentence. What’s more, if anyone who is in either of these programs messes up and violates the terms of their release, then they’re immediately brought back in and shown back to their cell. Thus, the release is tentative and depends on good behavior.

While there are these similarities, the important difference between these two terms is something that anyone who’s dealing with them will want to know as it could greatly impact their case. Let’s take a closer look at it.

What Is Probation?

Probation is a way for someone convicted of a crime to essentially serve time without being in their cell, but can only be issued by a judge at the initial trial. In some cases, probation can be included in someone’s sentence in conjunction with jail time, but in others can be used in lieu of jail, meaning those who a judge believes are a minimal risk to violate the terms may not actually require someone convicted to serve a day behind bars at all.

If a judge orders you to be placed on probation, they’ll set your terms that you’ll have to follow for its entire duration. For example, someone who is placed on probation for one year after a DUI conviction may be required to refrain from drugs or alcohol while on probation. They may also be required to keep a clean driving record, attend a drug and alcohol class, and more. If the offender breaks any of these terms, a warrant will be issued for their arrest and they’ll be brought back in and forced to serve the rest of their sentence in jail.

What is Parole?

Unlike probation, parole is never actually granted at trial by a judge; only the option for parole can be given. In order to become eligible for parole, you must have completed at least some time in prison, and it may be a lot of time, depending on the nature of your offense. Like probation, parole is a way you can spend the rest of your sentence out of jail and in society, but under heavy scrutiny and regular contact with law enforcement.

When you are sentenced, a judge may say you are eligible for parole after a certain number of years served. Once you have reached that threshold, you and your attorney may apply for release on parole, which is usually determined after a hearing with the parole board here in New Jersey. The parole board is a law enforcement entity responsible for determining who is eligible for parole and who would be safe to allow out, usually determined by behavior while institutionalized, any objections from the victim of your crime, and a few other circumstances.

Parole may last for a number of additional years, and sometimes may even last for the rest of your life, giving you heavy restrictions that you’ll be required to follow. And much like probation, one mistake could result in you being brought back in and forced to spend the rest of your sentence behind bars. However, for those who have received a long sentence, good behavior leading to release on parole can improve their quality of life substantially.

If you need assistance with a parole or probation matter, speak, with the Bergen County criminal defense attorney from the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC today! Contact us by dialing (201) 574-7919 for an initial case evaluation.
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