If you end up being convicted of a crime, there are other alternatives besides prison for some types of crimes. These alternatives are what criminal defense lawyers fight for, because they can allow more freedom and reformation for some clients. Many clients hope that their lawyer can petition for community service instead of time in prison. Community service is a common sentence, but it cannot be offered all the time. Here's what you need to understand about community service as a means of paying your "debt to society".
Serious Crimes Will Not Allow Community Service
First of all, if your crime is very serious, you will not get an offer for community service. These crimes are usually violent in nature, or they have suggested prison sentences of several years or even life. It's simply not enough to suggest that community service for these crimes would benefit the public, since the justice system aims to keep the public safe and to make sure the punishment fits the crime. Repeat offenders are less likely to get community service as well.
Community Service Must Serve the Greater Good
Community service cannot just be the best solution for the client; it must also be the best solution for the community. For example, if you are convicted of arson, community service might not be a good solution to help the community, especially because the building might have been lost to the community and because the lives of first responders are endangered as result. On the other hand, if you were convicted for vandalism, community service cleaning up vandalism in the area, including repainting buildings and beautifying parks, would help to better the community and make restitution for the crime committed.
The Punishment Should Match the Crime
Generally, service to the community should connect in some way to the crime, because the sentence should serve to help repair the damage or to show others what will happen when those crimes are committed. You might not get community service to clean up trash if you were arrested for harassing a homeless person. You might, on the other hand, need to put in hours at a local homeless shelter, which is more connected to the crime.
Keep in mind that community service is not "getting away" with a crime. It is still a sentence for conviction, and you will still have a criminal record. Failing to do community service can result in arrest, jail time, and reduced leniency in the future. You should take this type of sentence seriously.