Violation Probation: What Does it Mean?

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Those who have been convicted of a crime often face a sentence that includes probation. While many are familiar with the concept of probation, the idea of violating it may seem a bit more foreign. What counts as a violation? How serious is it? What are the possible consequences?

How Serious is a Violation of Probation

Serious. A probation violation occurs when someone who has already been sentenced for a crime breaks the terms or conditions of that probation. Thus, the consequences associated with the violation can be fairly serious, including sending the violator to jail or prison to serve out the rest of his or her sentence (and possibly additional time for the offense that caused the violation). Judges also have broad discretion in both making a finding that a violation occurred and in determining the appropriate punishment for that violation. Even if one is not sent to jail or prison, a probation violation could result in heavy fines, an extension of the probation, stricter monitoring, or other consequences.

How Probation Is Violated

What may constitute a violation of probation varies widely between jurisdictions, judges, and probation officers. Some probation officers may overlook small infractions, while others may hold one to task for them, and judges are the same way. Probation violation laws vary among the states and are governed by federal and state law, as well, but generally, a violation occurs when the person on probation ignores or fails to observe a condition of the probation at any time during the probationary period, or commits a new crime. There are a myriad of conditions that those on probation can violate, sometimes without meaning to do so. Some of the most common include:

Failing to appear for court (or showing up late)
Not reporting to a scheduled meeting with the probation officer
Failing to pay fines or restitution as ordered by the court
Visiting people or places prohibited by the terms of probation (e.g., victims, accomplices, etc.)
Possessing, using, or selling drugs and/or failing a drug screen
Committing new crimes

After a Violation, What is the Procedure?

Again, procedures vary widely from state to state, and even in different areas within a particular state. Generally, a probation officer has some discretion in whether to consider a particular event worthy of report as a violation. If someone without a car is merely tardy thanks to a slow bus system, the probation officer may be more understanding than if someone is arrested for doing the same thing that got them in trouble in the first place.

After a report of the violation is made, a hearing generally occurs in front of the judge that sentenced the individual to probation. The probation officer that reported the violation testifies about the circumstances of the violation, as well as on the individual's overall conduct while under supervision. While the determination of guilt in a violation of probation hearing is not automatic, the burden is usually a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., it is more likely than not that the violation occurred). Thus, a report by a probation officer regarding a violation nearly always results in a finding against the person on probation.

The judge then has the discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for the violation. Minor violations may result in little more than a return to, or small extension of, the terms of probation. More serious violations could result in fines, hefty extensions of probation, or incarceration.

Legal Rights in Probation Hearing

If you or someone you know is facing a violation of probation charge, it is vital to know your rights and what you can do to protect them and avoid further consequences. Thus, it is critical to have a competent, experienced attorney on your side to represent you through these proceedings. You can find an attorney by visiting the attorney search feature on and searching by geographical area.

Generally, those charged with a violation of probation have a right to written notice of the violation, to be heard by a neutral judge in a court proceeding, to have an attorney present, and to present evidence and witnesses to support their cases. An attorney can ensure that these rights are granted to you, and take advantage of a denial of any of these rights to help you avoid a violation of probation and related consequences.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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