When a criminal defendant is convicted and sentenced in Vermont he or she may be given a suspended jail sentence in exchange for being put on a term of probation. Alternatively, a criminal defendant may be sentenced to a “to serve” sentence. A “to serve” sentence can be served in a traditional jail or prison facility or, with approval, can be served from your home on furlough.
The primary distinction between serving a term of probation and serving a term of furlough is that you are in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections while on furlough (even though you may be living in your home and going to work), if you are serving a term of probation you are not in the custody of the Department of Corrections (you are being supervised by them).
So, what does that mean, practically?
It means that if you are on furlough you are serving a jail sentence and accruing “credit” or “time” towards the jail sentence imposed by the Vermont Superior Court. It also means that if you violate the terms of your furlough release you may be taken directly to jail without going before a judge to serve a portion or the remainder of your sentence. There is an ongoing policy debate about the use of furlough in Vermont. Depending on the outcome of upcoming legislation furlough could be used less frequently by Vermont criminal courts in the future. At the time of this writing, however, furlough sentences are quite common in Vermont.
If you are on probation then you are not serving a jail sentence. A jail sentence has been suspended (in other words, put on hold) that you will never have to serve unless you violate the terms of your probation. Vermont Probation is a lower level of supervision than furlough. It typically requires meeting with your probation as directed and abiding by the conditions of probation imposed on you by the Vermont criminal court at your sentencing.
If you violate the terms of your probation then a violation of probation (“VOP”) will be filed with the criminal division of the Vermont Superior Court. You will be given a date to appear before the judge to enter an admission or a denial to the alleged violation of probation. If you deny the allegation a merits hearing will be set. At a probation violation merits hearing the State prosecutor will put on evidence and a Vermont Superior Court Judge will determine whether there is a preponderance of the evidence that you violated one or more terms of your probation. If the judge finds no violation occurs then the probation violation complaint is dismissed. The person continues on probation. If the judge finds a violation, then the judge will decide whether to revoke your probation and impose some or all of the suspended portion of your sentence. Depending on the number of prior violations and the severity of the violation the judge may also issue a stern warning and continue the offender on probation.
If you a facing a violation of probation or a furlough violation in Vermont contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your options and to mitigate your exposure.