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In 2013, a 40-year-old woman who had never run afoul of the law was pulled over driving under the influence of alcohol. She was at a Christmas party and was driving two guests from the party home. She had some wine, and the result was that she was arrested and branded a DUI offender. She pleaded guilty for a reason — she would serve no jail time and she would be placed on probation.

And yet, even though she was placed on probation, she was constantly getting into trouble in the months that followed her placement on probationary status. She didn’t new crimes, however — she simply couldn’t keep up with the courts’ arbitrary rulings, constant schedule shifts, confusing communication and sky-high costs.

You see, probation is considered this sort of heavenly status when compared to “what could have been.” Someone “could have been” in jail, but since they are on probation, they must be living the easy life (relatively speaking).

But when you’re on probation, you pay thousands of dollars in fines, penalties and probationary fees. If you miss court dates, you pay for that. And the courts often shuffle their schedules and change court dates, so it can be hard to know exactly when you are supposed to be at the courthouse. You can even be sentenced to jail if you miss payments or court dates. Even worse, you could miss critical deadlines for legal action that may spare you further time on probation.

The lesson here is that if you are on probation, or if probation is a prospect for you in light of a certain criminal charge, make sure you talk to a lawyer about it first.

Source: New York Times, “Probation May Sound Light, but Punishments Can Land Hard,” Shaila Dewan, Aug. 2, 2015

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