What Is Shock Probation in California?

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Shock probation is an early release from incarceration, typically after about ninety days. Shock probation is offered in the hope that the shock of incarceration will deter the defendant from committing crimes in the future.

The San Diego County criminal justice system offers shock probation only for certain defendants convicted of certain types of criminal activity.

Below, the California criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong APLC go over the details of shock probation. If you have any questions, please call us at (619) 514-0267 or contact us online.

Shock Probation: Definition

The American Psychological Association defines shock probation as “a criminal sentence in which an offender is incarcerated for a brief period and then released into the community under the supervision of a parole or probation officer.”

In other words, a probation officer supervises a criminal defendant on shock probation after their release from incarceration. The defendant will attend meetings with their probation officer until the probation period ends. 

Qualifications for Shock Probation

Most defendants are ineligible for shock probation. Since the purpose of shock probation is to rehabilitate the defendant through minimum incarceration, it is reserved for defendants who are most likely to be successfully rehabilitated.

Although the court exercises a certain amount of discretion, the following defendants are most likely to receive shock probation:

  • Juvenile and youth offenders,
  • First-time offenders, and
  • Defendants arrested for minor crimes such as shoplifting or possession of a small amount of drugs.

Remember that no defendant is entitled to shock probation—a court always enjoys the discretion to turn down an application.

Shock Probation vs. Ordinary Probation (Split Sentencing)

Shock probation differs fundamentally from ordinary probation. In shock probation, the court sentences the defendant to a full term of incarceration—five years in prison, for example.

After a certain minimum period of time—typically 30 to 90 days—the defendant can apply for shock probation. 

If the court approves shock probation, the defendant will likely leave prison within a few weeks of submitting the application. The defendant will be on probation for the remainder of their original sentence.

One of the main sources of shock is that at the time the defendant enters incarceration, they may be facing years of prison with no guarantee of ever receiving shock probation.

Split Sentencing

Split sentencing is far more common than shock probation. In split sentencing, a judge sentences a defendant to a period of incarceration followed by a period of probation.

The main difference between split sentencing and shock probation is the shock factor. In split sentencing, the defendant knows when they enter incarceration how long it will last. 

The Pros and Cons of Shock Probation

Shock probation had its proponents and its opponents. Its proponents point out that it:

  • Limits incarceration for minor crimes and first-time offenders;
  • Frees prison bed space for more serious offenders;
  • Deters young offenders from embracing a life of crime; and
  • Prevents youthful offenders from becoming hardened criminals.

Opponents of shock probation (on both sides of the political spectrum) point out that:

  • It rips young offenders from their families, even if only for a short time;
  • Incarceration is a serious penalty for relatively minor crimes; and
  • Incarceration exposes young people and first-time offenders to hardened criminals who may lead the defendant into a life of crime.

Not all states offer shock probation, and no state treats shock probation as an entitlement. 

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in California Today

Criminal prosecutions move fast, and unnecessary delay could make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. It is important to move quickly because critical deadlines are always looming.

Call The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong APLC, at (619) 514-0267 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.