What Counts as Community Service?

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on February 02, 2015 8:40 AM

In criminal cases, criminal offenders are sometimes ordered to perform community service in exchange for a reduction of fines or term of imprisonment. But the exact nature of this community service is not always specified by the court.

This can lead to disputes regarding what actually suffices for community service by a criminal offender. In one recent example, actress Lindsay Lohan may be facing jail time after she tried to count socializing with fans toward the 80 hours of community service she was ordered to perform for a reckless driving charge in 2012, reports Time. Prosecutors are arguing that Lohan's meeting with fans should not be counted towards her required community service.

So what does typically count as community service?

General Requirements

Community service rules and procedures vary by state, but community service obligations will commonly be related to the type of offense a person is charged with. Court-ordered community service must also typically be of some benefit to society, by providing restitution for a person's crimes, serving as a deterrent to others, or a combination of the two.

An offender's community service will be monitored by the court to ensure that the offender meets the requirements ordered by the judge. The court will typically require a person serving community service to maintain records of the amount and type of service he or she has performed.

Types of Community Service

There are many different types of activities that may be ordered as community service, including picking up trash on the side of the highway and working with local non-profit groups. Here are just a few examples from some recent high-profile cases:

  • In a previous incident in which Lohan was found to have violated her probation, the actress was ordered to serve community service at a women's homeless shelter and at the Los Angeles County morgue.
  • Rapper Kanye West was able to cut a plea deal in his misdemeanor battery case in which the rapper was ordered to serve 250 hours of community service teaching classes at the L.A. Trade Technical College.
  • One Ohio judge has made a name for himself through his use of public shaming as a form of community service. His orders have included ordering a man who posed as a Salvation Army bell ringer in order to steal money to perform 400 hours of community service while wearing a Santa hat and ordering an 18-year-old who stole from a porn shop to sit outside, blindfolded, while holding a sign reading "see no evil."

If you have questions about community service in lieu of or in addition to reduced criminal penalties, a criminal defense attorney can explain your legal options. You can also learn more about community service and other types of alternative sentences at FindLaw's section on Sentencing.

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