When you're convicted of a crime, you face potential punishments that include a fine and incarceration. However, courts can also impose a probation sentence in lieu of, or in addition to, fines and jail or prison time. When a court orders you to serve probation, it essentially agrees to let you serve your sentence while remaining in the community but only while under strict rules that you must obey. A probation violation can occur whenever you violate one of the imposed terms.
When a court orders probation, it allows those convicted of a crime to remain relatively free, or at least much freer than they would be had the court ordered them to serve time in jail or prison. Probation sentences are a type of punishment; they are not voluntary. A person sentenced to probation must serve the entire probation period and comply with any limitations or conditions imposed.
A person on probation doesn't have the same freedoms the average person does and must live under specific rules, or conditions. These conditions are designed to both punish the offender and to protect the community while those on probation serve their sentence outside of jail or prison. Courts have broad discretion when imposing probation conditions, and can impose any condition as long as it is reasonably related to the crime the probationer committed. Though these conditions can differ significantly, they typically include many of the following.
Probationers who violate any of the conditions imposed by the court can have their probation sentences revoked. This typically happens when, for example, a probation officer finds that a probationer has violated a condition (such as failing a drug test or not maintaining employment) and reports this to the court. The probation officer or a prosecutor can file a probation revocation and ask the court to hold a revocation hearing.
A revocation hearing is similar to a criminal trial, though there are significant differences.
Probationers have a right to a hearing in which the court will hear the evidence about any alleged violation. The probationer has the right to call witnesses and present evidence at the revocation hearing and has the right to be represented by an attorney. If the court finds that the probationer has violated any of the probation conditions, it will then determine whether to revoke probation or impose other penalties.
Prosecutors in a probation revocation do not have to prove that the probationer violated a condition beyond a reasonable doubt. They must merely show that it is more likely than not that the probationer committed a violation. This is a lower standard of proof than in criminal trials. Further, probation revocation hearings are only heard by a judge, and no juries are involved.
You cannot accidentally violate the terms of your probation, and minor violations are typically not enough to result in a revocation. Also, you cannot violate probation if you simply intend to commit a violation but don't carry it out. Instead, you must actually do something that violates one or more of the conditions. For example, if you are laid off from your job or miss a community service date because your car broke down, this won't typically result in probation revocation. However, if you intentionally skip out on your community service date and instead decide to go to a bar and get drunk, this is usually enough for a revocation.
If a court finds that a probationer has violated a probation condition, it will impose a sentence. Sentences can include any punishments the court imposed but suspended when it ordered probation, meaning it can order the probationer to pay fines or serve time in jail or prison.
However, a court can also impose other penalties (such as extending the length of the probation period), impose new probation terms, order the probationer to serve a short time in jail, or impose no new additional penalties at all. The court has wide discretion in choosing what punishment to give and will take into consideration the nature of the violation, the probationer's previous actions, and the recommendations from the probation officer and prosecutors.
If you've been accused of violating your probation or have been sentenced to probation and are worried that you may have violated the terms, you should speak to a local criminal defense attorney immediately. Probation revocation proceedings are somewhat of a strange breed of court hearing because, while they involve criminal activity, they aren't criminal trials. You need advice from an experienced attorney who understands the processes involved in the revocation process and has firsthand experience with local probation officers, courts, and prosecutors. Probation revocations can seriously harm your chances of rebuilding your life, and you need to speak to an experienced attorney any time you have a probation violation concern.