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What happens if you violate the terms of your probation?

Common probation violations and their consequences

If you’ve been convicted of or pled guilty to a crime you may have been assigned probation by the court. Probation, also called supervision, is an alternate sentence to jail time. During the probation period, a person must follow the requirements set by a judge. Failing to follow these requirements can result in a probation violation, which can trigger serious consequences.

Common terms of probation

When a person is sentenced in criminal court a judge will often set the conditions of probation. The conditions, or requirements, depend on factors like the type of crime, criminal history, or risk to the community. In many cases, the judge will set the following conditions:

  • No new criminal law violations: Probation can be broken if a new law violation is alleged. It is important to note that a person does not need to be convicted to violate probation, sometimes it is enough to be charged with a new crime. This includes new misdemeanors, such as driving with a suspended license.

  • Report to probation: While on probation a person is often required to submit certain information to a probation officer. They may also be required, as part of supervised probation, to meet with their probation officer regularly. Failure to communicate or meet with the probation officer can trigger a probation violation.

  • Attend classes and/or treatment: Commonly, judges will require defendants to attend classes as a part of their criminal sentence. Victim impact classes, anger management, and drug/alcohol information classes are common. Failure to attend classes, or provide proof to the court or probation officer that the classes were completed, can trigger a probation violation.

  • No contact with the victim: If there was a victim in the crime, a judge will often issue a no-contact order preventing the defendant from being near the victim. This can include no-contact with locations, stores, or businesses, as well as individuals. Contacting a party that is protected by a no-contact order will trigger a probation violation.

Many crimes, such as driving under the influence, have very specific probation conditions that are regularly used by judges. If you are confused about your probation conditions, it is important to ask your attorney or the probation officer to clarify.

Consequences of violating probation

If the probation officer or prosecutor’s office discovers you’ve committed a probation violation, the prosecuting attorney will likely submit a motion to revoke probation to the court. At that point, the judge may issue a warrant against the person in violation of their probation, and a hearing will be set to determine whether the probation violation occurred and, if so, what consequences are appropriate.

It is much easier for a prosecutor to prove a probation violation than a criminal law violation, as the standard of proof is much lower. At the revocation hearing the judge will hear evidence from the prosecutor that probation has been violated. The defense may introduce its own evidence that probation has not been violated. If the judge determines that a probation violation has occurred, they can issue some or all of the punishment held back from the original sentencing.

Some crimes, such as driving under the influence, have mandatory minimum sanctions for probation violations. Other crimes allow the judge to use their own discretion in setting a punishment, with the maximum being any unserved suspended jail time. The judge will often hear from the defense and prosecutor before deciding what punishment they will issue.

Getting help and avoiding probation revocation

It is very important to contact an attorney if you think you might have your probation revoked. They can help you keep your probation from being revoked or decrease any punishment for a violation.

Judges and prosecutors are not always responsive to explanations about why probation conditions are difficult or impossible, and a lawyer may be able to help you to explain your situation in a way the court will understand.

Remember that a probation violation is very serious. Revocation can easily activate any remaining jail sentence that has been suspended. The best defense to revocation, however, is to know all the conditions of your probation and do all that you can to avoid violating them.

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