In a state court criminal prosecution, the judge may order a defendant to perform court-ordered community service—often in conjunction with an alternative sentence such as probation, pretrial diversion, or deferred adjudication.
Similarly, in the federal courts, community service is not a sentence, but a special condition of probation or supervised release. The probation officer’s presentence report—which the court relies on in choosing a fair sentence—may recommend that the court require community service. The court usually requires that the offender complete a specified number of hours of community service (usually from 100 to 500) within a given time frame (usually not to exceed one year).
Court-ordered community service may be related to the underlying criminal offense. For example, a defendant charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) may be ordered to complete court-ordered community service by volunteering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or giving speeches to young adults on the dangers of drinking and driving.