June 29, 2007 By Wallin & Klarich

As Paris Hilton recently found out the hard way, being placed on probation in lieu of jail time does not mean that you “got off scott-free.” Many people assume that when they are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and they are not sentenced to serve any jail time (or just a few days in jail) that they got off easy and can continue to do as they please. However, this is not the case!

Before we go any further, I am going to go over what I mean by the term probation. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word probation as, “A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court releases convicted defendants under supervision as long as certain conditions are observed.” Now there are several different forms of probation in the Criminal Justice System, but I am talking about formal and informal probation. In general terms, formal probation refers to when you are placed on probation and must report to a probation officer (if not in custody). Meanwhile, informal probation or summary probation refers to court supervised probation, meaning you do not have to report to a probation officer.

Probation is considered a privilege and not a right. Thus, everyone is not entitled to be placed on probation in lieu of jail or prison time. If you are placed on probation, you are given several terms and/or guidelines to follow. If you do not follow the terms of your probation, you can be in violation of your probation, your probation can be terminated, and you can be sentenced to the statutory maximum amount of jail and/or prison time. This is the concept that numerous people gloss over and/or do not understand and that can be very problematic!

Now, how does this apply to Paris Hilton? Paris Hilton was convicted of a wet reckless or in other words reckless driving (DUI related), a misdemeanor. Originally, she was placed on summary probation and was not sentenced to do any additional time in jail (other then the brief amount of time she did when she was arrested, booked, and released). However, just because she did not have to do any jail time, did not mean that she was “off scott free.” Paris Hilton still had to fulfill the terms of her probation. Furthermore, any new conviction could have resulted in a violation of her probation.

Part of the terms of Paris Hilton’s probation was to not drive unless legally licensed. However, her driver’s license was suspended as a result of her wet reckless conviction. Yet Paris Hilton continued to drive, a direct violation of one of the terms of her probation. This is why, as you all know by now, she was sentenced to serve 45 days in jail.

Paris Hilton was already convicted of the wet reckless and thus was not able to go back in time and fight this charge. Likewise, she was not entitled to a jury trial, but rather her fate lied solely in the hands of the Judge.

The Paris Hilton story serves as a great lesson to all those who evaded serious jail or prison time in lieu of probation. Like Paris Hilton, just because you do not have to do jail time does not mean that you are “off scott free.” You still must be on your best behavior for the length of your probation, or you too may find yourself in jail when originally you were bragging to your friends about how you beat the system and evaded jail time!

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