Basics of Felony Sentencing in the State of Idaho

You’ve been to court, you might have spoken with your criminal defense attorney about possible penalties in your case, he threw out terms such as “probation, RIDER, and imposition, but what does that all mean? What’s the “brass tacks” of what will happen if you plead guilty or are found guilty of a felony? This is a basic guide to help understand the options a judge has as punishment if you plead guilty to a felony in the state of Idaho.

Please note that no one sentence is the same. There are sentencing “factors”, but no formula. With the exception of mandatory minimums and maximum penalties, a judge has broad discretion to sentence you to whatever they think is appropriate in a given case. However, a judge essentially has three options in any felony case, 1) Probation, 2) Retained Jurisdiction (aka RIDER) and 3) Prison.

Understanding Underlying Sentences

Before understanding the three different options a judge has at felony sentencing, you need to understand an “underlying sentence.” Unless you are given a Withheld Judgement, even when a judge grants probation, they will usually order an “underlying” prison sentence for a certain number of years. The sentence is underlying because the judge will “suspend” or hold onto that sentence so that if you violate a rule or condition of probation or “flop” a RIDER, the judge can put you in prison for that period of time.

The underlying prison sentence will be confusing at first. Your attorney or the prosecutor will talk prison time in a format such as 2+3, or 5+10, or some other random number added to another. The first number in the equation is the “fixed” period or the “determinate” period of the sentence. What that means is that if the judge decides to send you to prison after violating probation, you will actually serve all the time for the first number in the equation in years.

In the 2+3 example, the 2 is the fixed time. You will do the 2 years if the judge ever sends you to prison. The second number is called the “indeterminate” period, meaning that is time that you are eligible for parole, or time that you can be back on the street with a parole officer monitoring you.

Now that you understand that there will be a prison sentence of a number of years in nearly every felony case, we can talk about the three options listed above:


At sentencing, a judge might sentence you to probation. This is the lowest form of punishment at the felony level. Probation can last as long as the maximum penalty for the charge. For example, if you are found guilty of Possession of Meth, the maximum penalty is 7 years. That means you can do 7 years on probation. Usually, probation lasts around 4-5 years though.

What the judge is doing by placing you on probation is requiring that you follow a set of rules or “conditions of probation” while you are out of jail living your life. If you violate the conditions of probation, he can “impose” prison time, or send you to prison for the period of time that he originally ordered at sentencing, the “fixed+indeterminate” number. 

Conditions of probation typically follow certain standards, but the judge can order different conditions of probation depending on the case. Standard conditions of probation typically include not committing any new crimes, not using any drugs or alcohol unless lawfully prescribed, taking drug and alcohol tests, being subject to searches, living where the probation officer tells you to live, not leaving the state, etc.

When you are placed on probation, you are also assigned a Probation Officer (PO). POs work for the Idaho Department of Corrections. They essentially keep tabs on the individuals on probation (“probationers”). They make sure probationers are following their conditions of probation, they may go by probationer’s houses, they may also ask for random drug and alcohol tests. If you are caught by your PO violating a condition of probation, they will write a report for the judge and the prosecutor’s office will file a probation violation. If you are found in violation of probation, the judge can either send you to the next phase by Retaining Jurisdiction (RIDER), or impose the prison sentence.


What is a Rider?

The second option a judge has, or the mid-level punishment you can receive on a felony case is Retained Jurisdiction, or what’s commonly referred to as a RIDER.

What the judge is doing when he “sends you on a RIDER” is he is keeping your case with the court. When a judge sends you to prison, he loses control over you. When you are sentenced to prison the Idaho Department of Correction then controls you and your rights are significantly limited. With a RIDER he is maintaining control over your case and giving you the possibility to go back on probation if you successfully complete your RIDER. The judge can retain jurisdiction over you for one year.

The practical effect of a RIDER, though, is that you are sent to state run programming for 6-9 months with the Idaho Department of Corrections. You will be in custody at that time, it is like jail, but the focus will be on rehabilitating you so you can be successful on probation and placed back into the community. There are classes and other programs that you are required to attend. If you do well at programing, as most do, you will be brought back before the court for a RIDER Review hearing.

At the RIDER Review Hearing the judge will tell you if you are going on probation, or if he is going to send you to prison. There will be a report prepared by the treatment providers and facility managers while you are at programing that will help the judge decide whether to put you on probation or put you in prison.

Most cases end up on probation. However, if you performed poorly on a RIDER, you may end up in prison serving the underlying sentence ordered by the judge. When you are originally sentenced on a case, the judge can skip probation and send you straight to a RIDER. They may do this when they believe that when you are sentenced you are a risk to yourself or the community, but with the help of programming you can be placed back in the community.

Imposition of Prison

This is the third option a judge has when dealing with sentencing for felonies. This can be ordered at the original sentencing if the charges were severe enough, or after failing probation, or after “flopping” a RIDER.

As mentioned previously, the court will order a specific sentence typically in numbers of years capped at the maximum penalties. For example, as mentioned above, Possession of Meth has a maximum penalty of 7 years. A judge can sentence you to the full 7 years, but will typically order something less for the fixed period of time, but may order an indeterminate period to equal the maximum penalty.

For example, the Judge could order 1+6 or 2+5 or 3+4 on Possession of Meth (7 years). They don’t have to order a total of 7, but it is not uncommon. They can just as easily order a 1+2 or 1+3. The different factors in a case, the crime, the judge, the prosecutor, criminal history, victim statements, the list goes on.

The extreme downside of imposition is your rights are significantly limited in that the parole commission then determines whether you stay in prison or parole out. The rights an individual has in the parole process are significantly limited when compared to probation where the judge still has control of the case.

Prison is typically the last resort. Judge’s try to avoid sending to prison when possible, and even prosecutors, for the most part, hesitate when recommending a prison sentence.


In Summary, felony sentences in Idaho can typically be viewed as three separate options, being Probation, Retained Jurisdiction (RIDER), and Prison.

Aaron Hooper, Attorney at Law Aaron Hooper, Attorney at Law
Best Criminal Defense EVER! Knowledgeable, Dependable, Professional, and Caring. Aaron exceeded all of my expectations and was a true blessing.

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