If you were convicted of a criminal offense in the State of Tennessee, you may have been ordered to serve a period of time on probation as part of your sentence. If so, you were also ordered to abide by a number of standard and special conditions as part of your probationary sentence. If the court has reason to believe you violated one of those terms you could be notified of a probation violation hearing. If you have never been through a probation violation hearing, you may be wondering if you need a criminal lawyer to represent you at the violation hearing. Because of the possible ramifications if the court finds that you did violate your probation, it is definitely in your best interest to have a criminal lawyer represent you at a probation violation hearing.
Understanding Probation – What You May Not Know Can Hurt You
Like most people, when you agreed to your probation terms as part of a guilty plea agreement, or heard your probation only sentence after a guilty verdict, you probably focused exclusively on the fact that your sentence did not include jail time. What you may not have heard, or focused on, was the actual sentence handed down by the court — a sentence that likely did include a term of imprisonment. How is this possible if you remained out of custody? Because the court suspended your term of imprisonment. It typically works like this: a defendant is sentenced to a year of incarceration, with all time not yet served suspended, meaning you are not required to go to jail at that time. The court then imposes a term of probation that is typically equal to your suspended jail time. The important thing to understand is that you were actually sentenced to spend time in jail; however, as long as you successfully complete your time on probation you will not have to serve that time in jail. A probation violation, however, can change everything.
Standard and Special Conditions of Probation
Every Order of Probation is tailored to the defendant and the case; however, all probationers are required to abide by certain standard conditions of probation. Standard conditions of probatin include things such as:
- Maintaining employment or enrollment in school
- Reporting to a probation officer as directed
- Not testing positive for illegal drugs or alcohol
- Payment of all fines and court costs
- Not committing any new criminal offenses
You may also be ordered to abide by special conditions of probation. “Special” conditions of probation are conditions that are geared toward the defendant or the case specifically, such as:
- Obeying a no contact order
- Attending anger management classes
- Completing a drug and alcohol evaluation
- Paying restitution to a victim
Collectively, the standard and special conditions of probation form the “rules” that must be followed by a probationer during the term of his/her probation. A violation of any of the standard or special conditions of probation can lead to a probation violation being filed with the court. The court will then set a hearing to decide if the probationer did, indeed, violate his or her probation.
Why Should You Have a Criminal Lawyer with You at a Probation Violation Hearing?
A probation violation hearing is similar to a trial; however, it is less formal. The outcome of the hearing, however, can be just as devastating as the outcome of a trial if the judge finds that you did violate your probation. At the hearing the prosecutor will present evidence of the alleged violation to the court. You have the right to present evidence as well and/or challenge the evidence presented by the State. This is one reason why you need a criminal lawyer on your side at the hearing. If the judge ultimately finds that you did violate your probation, one of three things will likely occur as a result:
- Your probation will continue unchanged. For a minor transgression the court may just slap you on the hand and allow you to continue on your probation with just a warning.
- The judge will modify the terms of your probation. The judge could also allow you to continue on probation but may modify the terms of your probation. For example, the judge might add the condition that you complete additional substance abuse treatment.
- The judge could revoke your probation and sentence you to serve your “back-up” time. If the violation is serious, and/or not the first time you have violated your probation, the judge could revoke your probation altogether. In that case, you could be ordered to serve some, or all, of your suspended sentence, or “back-up” time, in jail.
If you have been notified of a probation violation in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.