How Does Traffic / Misdemeanor Probation Work in Georgia?
The State of Georgia classifies non-felony traffic violations as misdemeanors, rather than as a lesser offense. State courts may impose probation as part of sentencing for any misdemeanor. If you are placed on misdemeanor probation as part of the sentence, it is important to understand exactly what that means. Talking with an experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer before you decide how to proceed is the best way to fully understand the consequences of a plea or conviction and the resulting sentence.
What Is Misdemeanor Probation in Georgia?
When a Georgia court sentences a defendant for a misdemeanor offense, which includes all moving traffic violations in the state, the maximum penalties may include a fine up to $1,000, a jail term up to 12 months, and probation, or any combination of these penalties. Certain misdemeanors are classified as high and aggravated misdemeanors which can carry a fine of up to $5,000. The financial cost may include not only a fine but also court fees and other mandatory add-on surcharges, such as probation supervision fees. Georgia has some of the highest add-on surcharges in the country. In cases of financial hardship, a judge may convert fines, surcharges, and supervision fees to community service or educational advancement.
Misdemeanor probation is a type of penalty imposed instead of a fine or jail time (or both) in a traffic or other misdemeanor case. (Felony probation is separate from misdemeanor probation in the State of Georgia.) Misdemeanor probation allows a defendant to remain free as long as they abide by specific rules and restrictions that are part of the sentence. The judge may order that upon successful completion of a probationary term and the court-imposed conditions, a defendant may be released from further obligations. In some cases, the probation will continue for the full term of the sentence given by the court.
Misdemeanor probation often lasts for a term of 12 months but may be imposed for a different specific term. Violating the conditions of probation is a very serious matter that may result in termination of probation and even incarceration, often for the remaining term of probation.
There are many reasons why a judge may impose misdemeanor probation and why a prosecutor may agree to the probation. Regardless of the reasons, a defendant must take probation seriously and abide by all the terms and conditions. The court retains jurisdiction to amend, modify, or change a probationary sentence.
It’s important to note that in addition to misdemeanor penalties imposed by a judge for a traffic violation, there may be administrative penalties relating to your driver’s license, including points added to your driving record or even license suspension or revocation, regardless of the number of points on your record. The license or other administrative issues are implemented by the Department of Driver Services. Accordingly, while the probation terms do not, typically, impose a license suspension, the terms of probation can be violated and a revocation can occur if one violates the administrative license restrictions imposed as a result of the judge’s sentence.
Conditions of Georgia Misdemeanor Probation
Georgia statutes impose numerous terms and conditions on misdemeanor probation. The laws and rules are complex. Required conditions prescribed by the law include:
- Staying free from additional arrests and criminal charges of any type
- Reporting to the probation officer at regular intervals, as directed
- Allowing the probation officer to visit you at home or elsewhere
- Working at suitable employment when possible
- Avoiding injurious and vicious habits and persons or places of disreputable or harmful character
- Refraining from changing your place of residence, moving outside the jurisdiction, or leaving the state, without permission of the probation officer
- Supporting legal dependents
Misdemeanor probation also may include additional conditions specific to the circumstances that relate to the charge, such as:
- Paying a fine or restitution
- Completing community service
- Submitting to random drug or alcohol testing
- Completing specific educational courses
- Paying fines
If placed on probation, you will be assigned a probation officer that will make sure the sentence conditions are met and complied with. Misdemeanor probation sentences are supervised, in most cases, by a private probation company. The defendant pays the total cost associated with probation. The defendant must pay a monthly fee to the probation office while on probation. The exact amount depends on the jurisdiction. The probation supervision fee is in addition to other financial penalties and costs imposed by the court.
Georgia has a specific type of misdemeanor probation called pay-only probation for traffic violations. This type of probation allows the defendant to pay fines and fees over a period of up to three months. Pay-only probation also includes additional probation supervision fees. In some cases, the probation fee and other add-on charges can effectively double the amount you need to pay for a violation.
What To Do When Facing a Misdemeanor or Traffic Charge
If you face any misdemeanor charge, including moving traffic violations, it is advisable to talk with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney before you enter a plea and receive a sentence from the court. While probation may sound like a good way to avoid some of the consequences of a criminal charge, even misdemeanor or pay-only probation requires you to agree to detailed specific terms and creates an obligation to pay additional financial fees. It is important to understand the full impact of probation as part of a sentence before you enter a plea to a criminal charge.
An experienced lawyer can discuss the full financial cost of a specific plea, possible defenses to the charge, the possibility of a nolo contendere plea, and other strategies for proceeding. Your lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea with the prosecutor that has a more favorable result than a guilty plea to the charge. After you discuss your case with a lawyer, you can make an informed decision about the best way to move forward, in light of the circumstances in your specific case.
Talk With an Experienced Georgia Traffic and Criminal Defense Lawyer
The criminal and DUI defense attorneys at The McCoy Law Firm, LLC have decades of experience representing clients in all types of misdemeanor and felony cases, including traffic offenses. Based in Cartersville, we represent defendants in state courts throughout northwest Georgia. If you face any type of charge, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.