At the Tennessee law firm of Bennet & Michael we understand that being sentenced to serve a term of probation can be a bit frightening if you are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system in general, and the probation system in particular. As you are likely aware, violating one of the terms of your probation can have serious consequences for you and your future. All too often, a violation is unintentional and is caused by a lack of knowledge and/or understanding on the part of the probationer rather than an intentional act. With that in mind, we have prepared some answers to the most frequently asked questions relating to probation to help you gain a better understanding of the probation system and what is expected of you while you are on probation. If you have additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the criminal defense attorneys at Bennett & Michael.
1. What is probation?
Probation is a sentencing alternative to incarceration that allows a defendant to serve a sentence in the community instead of in jail or prison. You can be sentenced to serve a period of time on probation in addition to, or in lieu of, being sentenced to a period of incarceration. Typically, the judge will actually sentence you to a period of incarnation and then suspend that time and allow you to serve that time on probation instead. Keep in mind, however, that the suspended sentence can be reinstated if you violate your probation.
2. Is probation the same as parole?
No. Probation is a sentencing alternative that is ordered by the sentencing court judge. Parole is a period of supervised release following a period of incarceration in a state or federal prison that is supervised by the state or federal department of corrections.
3. Who oversees probation?
The sentencing judge that sentenced you to probation will retain jurisdiction over you while you are on probation. The county probation department, however, will actually supervise you while you are on probation, meaning you will be required to report to a county probation officer.
4. What are “standard conditions” of probation?
Standard conditions of probation are conditions that every probationer must abide by while on probation. These conditions will likely include things such as:
- Reporting to your probation officer as directed
- Maintaining employment and/or enrollment in school
- Paying all court ordered costs and fines
- Not committing any new crimes
5. What are “special conditions” of probation?
Special conditions are conditions that apply only to you and that are imposed because of the offense for which you were convicted or because of something in your background. Special conditions, for example, might include:
- Completing an alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment
- Attending an anger management class
- Abiding by a no contact order with a victim
- Paying restitution for damages
6. Will I be drug tested while on probation?
As long as the court has jurisdiction over you during the term of your probation you can be tested for drugs and/or alcohol. If your offense involved substance abuse, or you have a history of it, you will likely be tested on a regular basis. Likewise, if the court imposed testing as a special condition you will be tested regularly. Otherwise, some probation departments test probationers at the first meeting and then not again while others will test you randomly and yet others may not test you at all.
7. Can I move to another city or state while on probation?
Only with the court’s permission. You would need to consult with an experienced attorney who could help you petition the court for permission to move. Typically, the probation department in your new location would also have to agree to supervise you before the court will grant you permission.
8. What are common probation violations?
Probation can be violated in many ways; however, some common examples of probation violations include:
- Getting arrested for the commission of a new offense — note that simply being arrested is often considered a violation.
- Failing to show up for scheduled appointments
- Not completing an evaluation or a class
- Testing positive for drugs or alcohol
9. What happens if I violate my probation?
If your probation officer has reason to believe you violated your probation, a notice will be sent to the sentencing court. The judge will then issue an order for your arrest or send you an order to appear for a hearing. At the hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence of the violation. A probation violation hearing is similar to a trial but less formal. You also have the right to present a defense. If the judge agrees that you violated your probation, the judge can do one of three things:
- Return you to probation with no changes and simply issue you a warning.
- Return you to probation but with modifications, such as a new condition that you complete alcohol and drug classes.
- Revoke your probation and order you to serve your suspended time in jail or prison.
9. Do I need a lawyer if I violated my probation?
You have the right to have an attorney represent you at a probation violation hearing. Although you are not required to be represented, you could be sent back to jail if the court agrees that you did violate your probation. With that in mind, it only makes sense to have an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney represent you at the hearing.
If you have been sentenced to probation in the State of Tennessee, and you are unsure of the terms of your probation or you are worried that you have violated those terms, you should consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney right away. Contact the team at Bennett & Michael today by calling 615-410-2454 to schedule your appointment.