NEW LAW ALLOWS EARLY REMOVAL FROM PROBATION Senate Bill 174 quietly became law this summer. However, its effect on all Georgians will be felt soon. The part of the bill that will have the biggest impact is now known as OCGA 17-10-1(a)(1)(B); the “Behavior Incentive Date” for early termination of probation. Under the new law, some probationers, regardless of the length of probation originally ordered, are eligible to have their probation terminated after only three (3) years. This applies to new cases as well as old ones. In other words, if a person was placed on probation for twenty (20) years in 2010, he or she may be eligible for early termination today. The new law also applies to sentences under the First Offender Act. Here are the criteria that must be met to qualify: 1. Must be on probation for one (1) or more of the offenses listed in OCGA 42-8-21. These offenses include, but are not limited to, forgeries, drug offenses, arson, burglary, criminal damage to property, etc. Sex offenses and serious violent felony offenses are not listed. Probationers who are convicted or sentenced as first offenders for these crimes are not eligible for early termination; 2. No prior felony convictions; 3. Does not include “split sentences.” This means that to qualify, the probationer must have a straight probation sentence. An example of a straight probation sentence would be “eight (8) years to serve on probation.” A split sentence, such as “ten (10) years to serve four (4) in prison”, does not qualify; 4. Must be compliant with all conditions of probation. (community service, curfews, drug treatment, etc.); 5. Restitution must be paid in full. For example, if a probationer destroyed a $3000 worth of property, he or she must pay this back to reimburse the victim before early termination can be considered; and 6. No arrests (other than non-serious traffic offenses or a probation revocation during the period of supervised probation.) Victims will be notified if a probationer is being considered for early termination. *** Additionally, active supervised probation, as opposed to unsupervised probation, can be terminated after two (2) years if restitution is paid in full. (There are other exceptions to this rule as well). If these criteria are met, then the probationer can obtain a Behavior Incentive Date (BID). The BID is simply the date when the probationer is reviewed for early termination. Today, there are thousands of Georgians eligible for early termination of probation. By taking advantage of the new law, probationers will be able to save thousands of dollars in probation fees, make more money by not having to leave work for probation appointments, enter the US armed forces, apply for a pardon or restoration of rights much sooner, and do so many things that being on probation hinders. Additionally, our state benefits by making the Department of Community Supervision (the combined teams of parole and probation) more efficient which saves money. Georgia will also have a larger, wealthier, and more available workforce. This brings in more state tax revenue, rejuvenates the economy, and lowers the number of people needing government assistance. For those who are concerned that early termination will lead to more crime because there is a lack of supervision, please consider this. Based on my experience as a criminal defense lawyer, people will get into the same trouble whether they are on probation or not. Our supervising officers are excellent at what they do. But, no one can watch over a grown man or woman every day. By implementing early termination, the potential time spent in jails and prison is simply lessened. For non-violent offenders, this is exactly what Gov. Deal’s criminal justice reforms have been aimed at. The new law will methodically strengthen our state and chip away at one more hurdle that many families face on the road to financial independence.