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Parole & Probation in Drunk Driving Cases

Parole and probation are both supervisory-type mechanisms employed in the punishment phase of the criminal justice process. Parole comes into play after a person has been imprisoned and is released. Alternatively, probation refers to a criminal sentence, separate and distinct from incarceration. Probation is the most frequent sentence imposed and typically involves releasing the convicted offender into the community subject to a list of terms and conditions. The actual terms can vary widely, based on the underlying crime, the characteristics of the offender, and the resources of the probation system. All probations are subject to a requirement that the offender refrains from committing further crimes.

Persons convicted of drunk driving may be placed on probation, or for subsequent offenses, they may be given a jail or prison term and then paroled, subject to continuing supervision.

Lawyers experienced in criminal defense and drunk driving law can explain the spectrum of possible punishments for drunk driving offenders and the possible sentences in greater detail.

Probation in Drunk Driving Cases

Many drunk driving offenders are placed under the supervision of a probation officer, although for some minor or first-time offenses, the offender is simply placed on probation for a length of time without being required to register with the probation office. Some offenders may only need to contact their probation officers once a month by telephone or in person, while others may have weekly meetings with a probation officer and may be subjected to random tests for the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs. In other cases, the offender's car will be equipped with a special ignition-locking device that works in conjunction with a breath test and prevents the car from starting if the driver's blood-alcohol level is too high. In addition, programs of intensive supervision have been developed in some areas that require offenders to wear an electronic monitoring device or call the probation office with their location and travel plans several times each day. Most probation plans require an offender to work or go to school. And many plans require offenders to obtain various kinds of treatment for their personal problems, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, seeking drug-abuse counseling, attending anger-management classes, or taking part in group therapy.

Probation officers act in a dual capacity in the criminal justice system. On the one hand, they are expected to help the offender get his or her life in order and stay out of jail. On the other, they are expected to monitor compliance with the criminal sentence and be an arm of the law and promptly report any violations. For this reason, the Supreme Court has held that probation officers can search the home of a probationer without a warrant or evidence that a crime was committed. They are not bound by any requirements of confidentiality and, in fact, are expected to inform the district attorney about any possible probation violations. Once a probation officer determines that a client has violated the terms of probation, a probation revocation proceeding is commenced.

Often, probation is structured so that the offender receives a suspended jail or prison term along with the probation. If probation is revoked, the offender will be incarcerated under the suspended-sentence provisions. Supreme Court decisions require that a person who is facing revocation of his or her probation be given a written statement of the alleged violation. Additionally, an opportunity to attend the hearing and present his or her side of the story, submit documentary evidence, and call and cross-examine witnesses is also required. The offender is entitled to have the revocation decision made by an impartial decision maker, and is entitled to a written decision reciting the reason for revocation and the evidence upon which the decision maker relied. Violations only need to be proved by a preponderance of the evidence, a much lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether the offender is entitled to representation by a lawyer at this stage of the proceedings is a determined on a case-by-case basis.

Parole in Drunk Driving Cases

Not all criminal justice systems use parole. Jurisdictions where parole is used are those that have "indeterminate sentencing" schemes, which basically means that the judge sentences an offender to a prison term with a minimum and a maximum length, such as five to fifteen years, and then the parole board determines when the offender is released. The offender is usually eligible to go before the parole board at the end of the minimum sentence and may be released at that time, or any time thereafter, subject to the supervision of a parole officer. On the other hand, the parole board may decide that the prisoner is not ready for release because he or she has not completed the plan of rehabilitation or based on bad behavior while in prison. If parole is granted, it is often under terms and conditions that mirror those used in probation. If a parolee violates the terms of parole, a parole revocation process like the one for probation revocation (as described above) is initiated. Once parole is revoked, the offender is sent back to prison to finish the original sentence.


Drunk driving carries serious penalties, including the possibility of probation in the less egregious cases, and parole after completing a prison sentence in the more severe cases. Your criminal defense attorney can explain in detail the possible sentences that may be imposed for a drunk driving conviction, including probation and parole, and can work with you throughout the process to achieve the least severe sentence possible.

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