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What Is Community Supervision in Harris County?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What Is Community Supervision in Harris County?

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The laws of Texas define community supervision as probation in Harris County. Before 1913, two sentencing options existed: 1) at sentencing, the judge could send the defendant to prison or 2) the jury might recommend no sentence.

  • In 1913, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a “Suspended Sentence Act” (Article III, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution) that permitted the state legislature to permit suspended sentences without tapping into the Governor’s authority to pardon a defendant.
  • By 1917, voters approved Article IV, Section 11A of the Texas Constitution, stating that Texas state courts would now have the powers to suspend sentences and to place defendants on community supervision or probation.
  • Over the years, the Texas legislature made changes to the law. In 1965, it added Section 42 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Article 42.12 Section 2(1) grants the court exclusive jurisdiction to grant probation.
  • Article 42.12 Section 2(2) defines community supervision as a placement of the offender by the court under the continuum of “programs and sanctions,” in which conditions are placed by the court for a certain period of time so that 1) the offender’s criminal proceedings are deferred without the adjudication of guilt and the offender’s sentence (involving confinement, imprisonment or fines, or both, is “probated” so that the imposed sentence is either suspended in full or in part.
  • The law has not clearly articulated what these programs are.

Now, the law equates probation with community supervision. In many other states, this form of release without prison is called probation. In 1993, the legislature formally changed probation to community supervision, although many people still call it probation. Probation Officers are referred to as Community Supervision Officers in Harris County.

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Community Supervision in Harris County, TX

Community Supervision is a type of alternative to confinement or imprisonment. It is considered “a brief period of supervision” after the defendant is released from prison.

Those placed on Community Supervision in Harris County must successfully complete stipulations and programs imposed on them by the court:

  • The number of contacts he or she must have with a Community Supervision Officer is determined by the court.
  • He or she is provided with conditions of Community Supervision. These conditions may mandate that the supervised individual stay away from drugs or enter treatment programs for substance abuse, etc.

Harris County reports that community supervision is more cost-effective than confinement, jail, or prison in dual terms of financial costs and effective rehabilitation. Not all offenders can be placed on community supervision:

  • By statute, some offenders are not eligible for community supervision.
  • The court considers the offender’s criminal history and the facts relating to his or her case.
  • The court may require the offender to make restitution to the victim(s).
  • If required to pay restitution, the offender must execute an affidavit in the presence of a notary.
  • If the offender fails to make regular payments to the victim(s), the victim(s) are encouraged to contact the offender’s Community Supervision Officer to resolve the issue.
  • Those on probation may make restitution payments via credit or debit card, money order, or cashier’s check. Cash is also accepted in Harris County at a special cashier’s office. Personal checks aren’t accepted.
  • In that scenario, the individual enjoying community supervision may have his probation revoked.

Offenders enjoying community supervision must demonstrate socially acceptable conduct. Citizens are encouraged to contact the offender’s Community Supervision Officer to provide any information they believe is relevant. Sex offenders must register with the Texas Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Registry.

Community Supervision Categories

In Harris County, the individual placed in community supervision faces one of three categories:

  • “Regular” or “Straight” community supervision
  • Deferred Adjudication
  • Shock Probation
#1: Regular or Straight Community Supervision

For those defendants entering a guilty plea or receiving a guilty verdict receive community supervision, often because the prosecution recommends it. However, the judge must accept a jury or prosecutor’s recommendation:

  • Tex. Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42.12 (3) authorizes the judge to impose “straight probation” in any/all felony cases when the punishment doesn’t exceed 10 years.
  • This discretion enables the judge in first, second, and third-degree felony cases to fix the probation term as long as it isn’t longer than 10 years (or less than the sentence determined for the offense).

For instance, if a judge grants community supervision in a sex offense case when the victim is less than 17 years of age, the minimum community supervision term is five years. In Class A/B misdemeanor cases, the longest community supervision term is two years and no minimum term:

  • Tex. Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42.12 Section 4(a) instructions the jury to recommend community supervision when two conditions are present: 1) the defendant mustn’t have been guilty of the commission of:a) indecency with a child (when the victim is less than 14 years of age),
    b) aggravated sexual assault (when the victim is less than 14 years of age),
    c) aggravated kidnapping (when the defendant intended to violate-sexually abuse the victim if less than 14 years of age),
    d) sexual performance of a child, or
    e) murder; and
    2) if the punishment recommended by the jury isn’t greater than 10 years.

A Harris County jury can recommend community supervision in the above sexual offenses when the victim is at least 14 years old or older as long as the recommended punishment isn’t more than 10 years.

The judge is always considered the final authority concerning the length of community supervision and other conditions to which the offender must comply.

The jury’s ability to recommend community supervision only after the defendant files his or her sworn motion for community supervision-probation, stating that he or she has not been convicted of a prior felony in Texas or another state.

Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) of Community Supervision in Harris County

A sentence of community supervision includes terms and conditions, such as an electronic monitor, safety locks (DWI cases), regular drug or alcohol urinalysis testing, or restricted contact with minors in a sex-related or abuse offense, and so on.

The judge has full discretion regarding the T&Cs. Generally speaking, these are determined by the offense. For that reason, it’s important to realize that probation isn’t a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card:

  • If an offender violates his or her terms and conditions, it’s possible to have community supervision revoked and return to jail or prison to serve the original sentence—without receipt of credit for time spent in the community during supervision.
#2: Deferred Adjudication

After a defendant enters a guilty or no contest (nolo contendere) plea without an adjudication of guilt, the judge may place him or her in community supervision:

  • The adjudication of guilt is held in abeyance during the period of community supervision.
  • If the offender successfully adheres to the terms and conditions of the community supervision order, the case may be dismissed (without the entrance of a conviction).

The primary difference between regular or straight probation and deferred adjudication is 1) punishment is assessed, not imposed, in straight probation and 2) punishment is not assessed in deferred adjudication.

This is a crucial difference: if the defendant’s community supervision is revoked, the judge may assess any length of confinement up to the legal maximum.

The deferred adjudication period can’t be longer than 10 years in a felony case or longer than two years in a misdemeanor case:

  • Under Article 42.12 Section 5(a), a defendant charged with any sex offense (when the victim is under the age of 17 years), indecency with a child, or sexual assault, deferred adjudication must be at least five years.
  • Community supervision in such cases may only be set by a judge when a finding is made in open court that community supervision “is in the best interest of the victim.”

The offender is ineligible for deferred adjudication if he or she is charged with a 3G offense under Article 42.12, such as:

  • Continuous sexual abuse of a “young” child/children
  • Aggravated sexual assault (if the victim is less than six years of age)
  • Aggravated sexual assault (as a capital crime)
  • Aggravated sexual assault when the victim is less than 14 years of age and when/if the offender a) caused serious bodily injury/death, b) placed the victim in fear of kidnapping, serious bodily injury or death, c) used acts/words in the victim’s presence to threaten to cause kidnapping, death, or serious bodily injury to another person, d) used/exhibited a deadly weapon, e) acted in concert with another individual who engaged in the act of sexual assault, or f) administered flunitrazepam (with the intent to facilitate the commission of an offense).
  • Under Tex. Penal Code Sections 49.04 to 49.08 (intoxication offenses, including DWI)
  • Offenses of indecency with a child, aggravated sexual assault, or sexual assault (regardless of the victim’s age) or felony act(s) described under Article 42.12 Section 13B(b), when the offender was previously placed in community supervision involving offenses of indecency with a child, aggravated sexual assault, or sexual assault (regardless of the victim’s age).
#3: ”Shock” Community Supervision

As governed by Article 42.12 Section 6(a), in which a case requiring imprisonment, shock community supervision will continue for “180 days from the date of imposition.”

Before the 180-day term expires, the judge “sua sponte”—or on a motion by the defendant or prosecution—may act to suspend the defendant’s sentence and move to place him or her on probation. To become eligible:

  • The defendant must be eligible for community supervision-probation, otherwise
  • The defendant must not have been previously incarcerated for committing a felony
  • He or she is ineligible for shock community supervision after the 180-day period expires.

Pre-Trial Diversion

Pre-trial diversion isn’t a type of community supervision. It is a joint agreement between the defendant’s counsel and the prosecution to place him or her on “pre-trial probation” as long as the Harris County Probation Office agrees:

  • When the offender agrees to the terms and conditions of probation and successfully completes the community supervision term, the prosecution agrees to dismiss the charges.
  • Pre-trial diversion is a type of informal agreement. It doesn’t require the approval of a judge or the defendant’s entrance of a guilty plea.
  • The defendant also has the ability to file a later expunction to completely clear the record of the arrest and/or criminal charge. In expunction, the record ceases to exist.

Offenses for which community supervision is not available in Texas

The judge can’t grant probation if the offender committed capital murder, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, indecency with a child (by contact), sexual performance by a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual performance by a child, first-degree bodily injuries to a child, or any crime in which a deadly weapon was either used or exhibited during the commission of a felony offense (or during his or her flight therefrom), or capital drug offenses (in DFZ) if the offender had a prior history of the same offense.

Securing Community Supervision in Harris County, TX

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice—Community Justice Assistance Division is responsible for the administration of adult community supervision-probation throughout Texas. Although securing reasonable terms and conditions in community supervision is an exceptionally challenging task in Harris County, it can be done with the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

If you or someone you care about is facing a criminal charge in Harris County, don’t ignore the essential role of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in the outcome of your case. Contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros in Houston to schedule an initial case evaluation at 832-752-5972 now.

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