What happens if I violate my probation? Will I automatically be sent to jail?
Probation violation is an offense that occurs when you break the terms or conditions of your probation. The consequences associated with probation violation usually depend on a variety of factors, such as the nature and seriousness of the violation, whether you have any prior violations, and whether there are other circumstances that may lessen (or worsen) the severity of the situation. A probation violation may result in significant penalties, such as heavy fines, extended probation, jail time, or more.
How Probation Is Violated
Probation violation laws vary among the states and are governed by federal and state law. Generally, a probation violation occurs when you ignore, avoid, refuse, or otherwise break the terms or conditions of your probation at any time during the probation period. Probation typically runs from one to three years, but may also last for several years depending on the original offense.
Probation may be violated in many different ways. Circumstances that may lead to a probation violation include:
- Not appearing during a scheduled court appearance on a set date and time;
- Not reporting to your probation officer at the scheduled time or place;
- Not paying any required fines or restitutions (to victims) as ordered by a court;
- Visiting certain people or places, or traveling out of state without the permission of your probation officer;
- Possessing, using, or selling illegal drugs;
- Committing other crimes or offenses; and
- Getting arrested for another offense, regardless of whether criminal or not.
When Probation Is Violated -- What Happens Next?
Warning or Request to Appear in Court
There is no set rule as to what happens immediately after a probation violation is reported. Probation officers have broad discretion to issue a warning, or require you to appear in court for a probation violation hearing. In deciding, a probation officer may consider the severity and type of condition violated, past probation violations or warnings, and other considerations. If you are requested to appear in court, the probation officer will request some form of penalty, which may potentially include jail time.
Determination of Probation Violation
During a probation hearing, a sentencing judge will hear your case to consider whether you violated any terms or conditions of your probation. The prosecuting attorney will need to prove a violation occurred by a "preponderance of the evidence" standard, or by a likelihood of more than 50 percent. Factors a judge might consider include the nature, type, and seriousness of the violation claimed, as well as a history of prior probation violations and other aggregating or mitigating circumstances.
If you are found guilty of probation violation, sentencing will occur shortly after the probation hearing, at which time the court may extend your probation, impose additional probation terms, order you serve a brief time in jail, or revoke your probation altogether and require you to serve out any remaining time of your original sentence in prison. Factors a judge may consider in determining your sentence may include the nature and manner of the offense and whether the offender was a "first-time" or "repeat" offender, among others considerations.
Legal Rights at a Probation Hearing
If you are facing probation violation charges, it is important to know your legal rights to minimize or avoid additional penalties and consequences. Generally, you have the right to: (1) receive written notice of the claimed violations against you, (2) be heard by a neutral judge in court, (3) attorney representation, and (4) to present evidence and witnesses to support your case, or refute evidence against you. A local attorney or other expert legal adviser can help you understand the rights available to you at a probation hearing in your particular state.
Penalties and Punishment for Violating Probation
Judges have broad discretion to impose jail sentences or other penalties for probation violations, subject to the maximum limits of a particular state statute. Some of the lighter penalties for violating your probation include having to perform community service, attend rehabilitation, "boot camp" or other programs aimed at correcting the behavior. Other, more serious, penalties include having to pay large fines or restitutions (monetary fines to victims), or having to serve a brief time in jail. The judge may also revoke your probation altogether and require you to serve the remaining terms of your original sentence in prison.
Probation violation is a serious offense that occurs when a person avoids or breaks any of the terms or conditions of his or her probation. When those terms are broken, the person serving probation faces severe consequences and penalties, including the possibility of additional probation terms, significant fines, a revoked probation or, more significantly, jail time.