* Written by Guest Blogger, Jennie Vale.

Data from survivor hotlines and service providers during the pandemic found that calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline from Californians rose by about 17% from March to May in 2020 [1]. While shelter-in-place guidance was in effect, requests for survivor services also climbed up across the state, and Los Angeles County’s hotline received 70% more calls than in 2019.

More so than ever before, it is clear that domestic violence is a problem that the State of California must take on with vigor. Whether it’s stalking, threats of physical harm or death, or any of a range of types of abuse, conviction on the charge of domestic violence has far-reaching consequences. Sometimes, however, part of the sentence in a domestic abuse crime is probation — an alternative form of sentencing that allows perpetrators to serve time outside of jail or prison. [probation can be given in addition to a jail sentence-e.g., 3 years probation and 30 days jail. For felonies only, sometimes the court imposes and suspends a set amount of prison time over the probationary sentence, so if the person violates probation, they go to prison after the judge finds probation was violated].

In this article, we’ll discuss what happens when abusers are put on probation, and what domestic violence victims may go through during this process.

When Are Domestic Violence Offenders Convicted to Probation?

A judge decides whether or not to grant probation when determining an offender’s sentence. In California, there are two types of probation, based on whether you were convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony offense [2].

Those charged with misdemeanors often receive summary probation. They are ordered to serve probation for one to three years –– and possibly up to five years in California –– because they are deemed to be at low risk for reoffending. On the other hand, felony offenders undergo formal probation whereby they are kept under strict watch for three to five years, but these instances are rare, as a vast majority of offenders receive summary probation.

What Does Probation for Domestic Violence Offenders Involve?

Although probation is often considered to be a more favorable sentencing option for domestic abusers, it usually involves several demanding conditions. Offenders must adhere to a set of rules, and in many cases, probation officers with criminal justice training are assigned to supervise said offenders while they are released into the community for a specific period of time [3]. Probation officers are in charge of assessing abusers, providing them with social services, and documenting their rehabilitation progress. They recommend appropriate sanctions to the court and can even improve outcomes for victims –– such as by guiding them against risks and ensuring restitution payouts.

Some of the rehabilitative requirements imposed by the court would include:

  • A 52-week batterer intervention program
  • Counseling or anger management therapy
  • Participating in community labor
  • Performing community service
  • Paying court fines
  • Serving jail time
  • protective order- which, in DV cases, can be imposed for all DV crimes, misdemeanor and felony, and whether the person is placed on probation or sentenced to jail or prison and can be up to ten years in duration.
  • Assorted other conditions imposed by the court

Additionally, those informal [and summary for misdemeanors- but summary is monitored by the court, not by county probation officers] probation are required to pay restitution to victims and submit to random drug tests and search and seizure conditions. Their travel is restricted; a probation officer will need to approve requests to go out of town, while the court’s permission must be obtained before they can move. Abusers who commit domestic violence under the influence of alcohol may also be asked to attend a pilot sobriety-monitoring program, to minimize the chances of consumption without detection [3].

As long as these conditions are met as required and abusers do not re-offend, there are no further criminal charges. However, they may still face negative consequences, like the possibility of going to jail (as probation can be revoked if the conditions are not strictly complied with; the defendant can either admit the violation or ask for a hearing) and losing the right to possess a weapon. Deportation and difficulty finding work in certain industries are also possible consequences.

What Can Victims Expect During The Probation Process?

Victims should work with victim advocates employed by district attorney [or for misdemeanors in the city, city attorney] offices or the local police department. These victim advocates assist people who have experienced crimes and act as go-betweens with law enforcement agencies. They can connect you to resources, keep you updated on the case, and provide practical advice.

Of course, if you are a victim it is best to have legal representation to ensure you’re notified when your abuser is released from custody, and to obtain a protective order on your behalf. Legal representatives help domestic violence survivors smooth out various legal issues, and also increase their chances of maintaining custody of children.

For legal domestic violence services, Sojourn, The People Concern’s domestic violence program recently added in-house counsel [5]. This expands the capacity of our legal services, on top of the shelter and support offerings. Contact Sojourn today to learn more, at (310) 264-6644. 

Sources Cited:

[1] Person, Hayes, J., & Harris, H. (2022, April 18). Hidden risk of domestic violence during COVID-19. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.ppic.org/blog/hidden-risk-of-domestic-violence-during-covid-19/

[2] Los Angeles County. Probation. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://probation.lacounty.gov/adult-probation-faqs/

[3] Top criminal justice careers. Maryville Online. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/criminal-justice/careers/

[4] California Legislature. (n.d.). Bill Text – AB-2138 Domestic violence: probation: sobriety-monitoring pilot program. California Legislative Information. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB2138

[5] Sojourn domestic violence services. The People Concern. (2022, March 8). Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.thepeopleconcern.org/sojourn/