What is Probation?


What is Probation?Probation

Probation is an active jail sentence paused for a certain period of time. During that time, a judge orders you to do certain things and not do other things. As long as you do the things you’re ordered to do, and don’t do the things you’re ordered not to do, then at the end of the given period of time your probation ends and you never serve that active jail sentence.

In North Carolina, there are two kinds of probation: supervised and unsupervised.  Supervised probation means a probation officer will supervise you. You’ll have to call them, meet with them, and be home when they want to come visit. You may have to submit to drug tests and/or take whatever classes they decide you need (parenting classes, anger management classes, GED classes, etc…) You’ll also have to pay a monthly supervision fee. Unsupervised probation means you will not have a probation officer. There will be no office visits, drug tests, or phone calls. You will have to pay money, do whatever else the judge might order (drug/alcohol assessment, community service, etc) and stay out of trouble and when the time expires, you’re done.

Here’s an example of how it might sound when a North Carolina judge puts you on SUPERVISED probation:

“The defendant is sentenced to 30 days suspended for 18 months, supervised, on the following conditions: that she obtain a substance abuse assessment and follow all treatment recommendations; that she pay the costs of court, a $50 fine, and a $55 fee for the services of her attorney; and that she not use/possess/or consume alcohol or controlled substances.”

Want that in English?  Here it is:

The judge just sent you to jail for 30 days. BUT! He paused that jail time for 18 months.  In those 18 months, you have a list of things you must do and a list of things you must not do.


  • Go to a local drug assessment agency and get an assessment. Usually folks go to TASC. They might say you’re good, go home, in which case there is nothing more for you to do. Or they may recommend some kind of drug or alcohol treatment, in which case you have to comply with whatever treatment they recommend.
  • Pay the costs of court ($200) plus a fine (here it’s $50) and the attorney fee (here it was $55). Usually your probation officer will set up a payment schedule for you and you pay the money according to that schedule. Now don’t be fooled. That’s never all you pay. If you have a court-appointed attorney, there is also a $60 fee for the privilege of having received a court-appointed attorney. That should be unconstitutional, but it’s not, so we’ll rant about that in a different blog.


  • Use/possess/or consume any drugs or alcohol during that 18 months. That means you can’t even have it in your pocket. Not even a little bit of it. Not even a flake of it. Got it? Good.
  • AND ALSO! Come on, you knew there was more to it than that. It is implied in every order of probation – even if the judge doesn’t say it – that you cannot commit any more crimes.
  • ANNNNND! You didn’t think you were finished, did you? It is also understood that you are ordered to meet with your probation officer, stay in touch, get permission before you change address or leave the state, and test clean for drugs.

Here’s what it sounds like when a judge sentences you to UNSUPERVISED probation:

“Ten days suspended 12 months on the condition that the defendant pay the costs of court, a $50 fine, $55 for the services of her attorney, and perform 50 hours of community service in the first 120 days. The defendant may have delayed payment.”

Here’s what it means:

The judge just sent you to jail for 10 days. BUT! He paused it for a year and gave you a list of things to do and a list of things not to do.


  • Pay the costs of court ($200), and a fine (here $50) and the attorney’s fee (here $55).
  • Do 50 hours of community service in the first 6 months. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, one of several very nice people will sign you up for this before you walk out of the courtroom and you will be assigned a place (usually Goodwill) to do your hours.


  • Commit new crimes.

If you’re not sure if you’ve been ordered to supervised or unsupervised probation, the delayed payment is a dead giveaway: delayed payment only comes with UNSUPERVISED probation, and it means that all the money you are ordered to pay will be added up, divided into a number of monthly payments, and you’ll pay the bill month by month.  In Forsyth County, North Carolina, the room to sign up for that is on the third floor of the Forsyth County Courthouse in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

Sounds easy, right? Well it is. Nonetheless, there are a million ways to violate your probation. For more on that, stay tuned for our next blog post: I Violated My Probation: Now What?

If you have questions about your probation or whether probation is a realistic or even the best option for you, contact us for a FREE consultation at Apple Payne Law, PLLC in Kernersville, NC.

Author Bio

Ronald D. Payne II
Ronald D. Payne II is the CEO and Managing Attorney of Apple Payne Law, a North Carolina law firm he founded in 2018. With more than 11 years of experience practicing law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including business law, estate planning, family law, probate, and traffic law.

Ronald received his Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law and is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being awarded the 2020 Client’s Choice Award by Avvo and multiple Rising Star awards from Super Lawyers.

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