If you’re on probation you already know there are many hoops to jump through and many conditions to trip you up. Probation isn’t easy. Many things you can do or fail to do can cause a motion to revoke (or in the case of a deferred adjudication, a motion to proceed to adjudication) to be filed. In Texas, there are three main ways to violate a probation: picking up a new criminal offense, missing probation meetings, and accruing three or more technical violations (dirty UA, missing probation appointment, etc.) Any of these will usually cause the probation officer to send a violation summary to the court. (failed to report, dirty UA, etc.) This typically results in a revocation motion which leads to a warrant.
If you have a warrant for probation violation, how to handle that is covered here: What do I do about a probation violation warrant?
Keep in mind, there are varying degrees of seriousness regarding violations. For example, if you fail to report or make contact with your probation officer for over a month that is a violation. But missing for three months makes you an absconder.
When the probation department decides to file a Motion to Revoke or a Motion to Proceed to Adjudication on a deferred adjudication, they put together a document to file with the court. This document lists all the ways in which they feel you have failed to live up to the terms of your probation agreement. For several reasons, this list can often look a lot scarier than it really should be.
The probation department will keep a running list of your progress on your probation. They’ll have a report from the field officer of how well you have performed, how cooperative or uncooperative you have been, what things you have completed, as well as what you have failed to do. Many probationers fall behind on their requirements, especially on things like courses, community service and monetary payment schedules, including payment of fines, court costs, supervision fees, and restitution. They will also keep tabs on whether you have picked up any new arrests or offenses. These things all become important when a problem crops up.
The list can seem daunting, especially at either end of the probation. Early in a probation, when few conditions have been met and much money is still owed, the motion will often include in the list of violations things like completion of community service hours or failure to take court-ordered courses or seek treatment. Conversely, late in the probation, they will list every violation, even ones that have already been resolved by the court. We can generally assess at a glance which of the items are critical.
Probation will serve the motion on you at their first opportunity. Especially if this document is served on you either before you have retained counsel or when your attorney is not present, the list of violations can be rather disconcerting. But understand that, along with the item or items that spurred them to file a motion, they also list every condition that has not yet been completed. A lawyer will immediately recognize which items are not in play and be able to help you focus only on the ones that matter.
One important difference in the way felony and misdemeanor probation violations are handled stems from the potential consequences. Because felony revocations can carry substantial prison time, bonds are generally not given except by the district court judge who presides over the case. Also, felony court prosecutors often say they won’t negotiate on a probation revocation matter until the person is in custody. So getting a feel for what the outcome might be before the warrant is served can sometimes be harder. Having an experienced lawyer will offer several advantages in this regard. First, the lawyer may be able to finesse information from either the prosecutor or probation officer despite their reticence. Second, the lawyer might be able to reach an agreement on the disposition anyway. Third, the lawyer may, through prior experience or connections, be able to provide a fair idea of what the range of likely outcomes will be. This can help guide decisions and planning.
We like to tell our clients several things when they begin probations. First, everyone at the courthouse wants to see them succeed on their probation. They don’t want to see probationers back in the courtroom with problems. Ultimately, they prefer people who get their conditions done, especially those who complete requirements early. But a key mindset to help people succeed on probation is to treat those who are working their case not as enemies, but as teammates. Too often people start probation with the idea that the people supervising them are their adversaries. And, make no mistake, sometimes probation officers start off with a hardline attitude as a way to establish authority and control. But once they realize they have a willing and cooperative probationer, most tend to soften and can even become helpful.
Another thing we tell clients is that if there are problems, you’d much rather go to someone you’ve been thinking of and treating as a teammate than an enemy. They may be able to help smooth over difficulties. Of course, it’s always best to call us for advice if you know you have a problem. But sometimes the field probation officer can be your best ally in smoothing things over. It’s part of their job to help keep people on track.
Certainly, there are limits to what they can overlook or resolve. But they, the court probation officer, the prosecutor, and the judge have a wide range of options to try to help probationers get back on track. This ranges from doing nothing to revoking the probation and entering a jail or prison sentence. And there are many options in between. (In Dallas, these include terms you may have heard such as IOP, ISF, and the infamous SAF-P).
A probation may be extended or continued with added conditions such as treatment or monitoring. You can be given days in jail as a condition of continuing. Some courts advertise a zero-tolerance policy; you slip up, you get sentenced. But even in courts that make that claim, there are often ways to get back on track. And we have had numerous probation violations where not only do they not tack on any additional punishment or conditions, but they end the probation and discharge the case.
Whatever the situation, you don’t want to be the unlucky one who gets hit with the zero-tolerance punishment. Nor do you want to be the person with so many slip-ups that the probation department has already used all the tools in their tool belt on you. So try to make it through as smoothly as possible. But when you encounter problems, call us first. We’ve done so many cool and unexpected things for people who were either arrested on or worried sick about their probations. We’d love to try to help fix yours.