Understanding Probation and Probation Violations

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Understanding Probation & Probation Violations

Probation is a term that almost everyone knows, whether you have been involved in the criminal system or not. Most people know someone who has been or is currently enrolled in probation as part of a criminal case (If they, themselves, haven’t had to register at some point in their lives!). If you have a probation violation you need help from the experienced Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower to help you out.
Probation itself is a legal mechanism that usually results from either a criminal conviction or a plea agreement with the State of Indiana. Its primary intended use is to allow a defendant to avoid jail time, stay free during their sentence to continue to work and live at home, all while being closely monitored by the local probation office.
Probation has become a very common facet of the Indiana judicial system when it comes to sentencing in criminal cases, and as time goes on, it is being utilized more and more by the State of Indiana and by and through judges as part of sentencing. For example, from 1999 to 2008, the number of defendants on felony probation increased 56%. Click here to read a great study on probation and sentencing commission by the former Governor Mitch Daniels.
As part of any sentence involving probation, the parties either agree to, or a judge requires, that there be conditions of probation. Those conditions range from requiring random drug/alcohol urinalysis/screens, daily/weekly/monthly reporting with your probation officer, drug/alcohol/anger management classes, and/or substance abuse treatment/evaluations.
Most probation arrangements also lay forth conditions that can violate your placement with probation — those include positive drug screens, failing to timely report to your probation officer, failing to comply with a court order, absconding, picking up a new arrest, failing to pay restitution or court ordered fees, etc. There are typically other restrictions on your freedom during your probation period as well. Those include, but aren’t limited to, requiring you to ask for permission to move, change jobs, travel, etc.
Probation is a great tool for avoiding jail initially, but the problem with it comes when you are alleged to have violated a term of your placement. Typically, a judge, prosecutor, and/or probation officer will forgive minor violations or honest mistakes — however, when the probation violations are more serious and/or more commonplace, the punishments can be incredibly harsh. In fact, many defendants, had they fully realized the ramifications of violating probation, would choose a different form of executed sentence all together (especially if they knew the statistics of defendants failing probationary placement).
For example, probation violations leading to revocation have also been on the rise in Indiana — in 1999, 25% of probations were revoked, compared to 34% in 2008! And, depending on the county where you are on probation, some departments are much stricter at revoking probation. For example, in 2009, in Marion County 44% of people on probation completed it successfully, with 33% in violation — compared to St. Joseph County, where 77% of those on probation completed it successfully with 11% in violation. Click here to read more about these statistics.
So what happens when a violation has been filed by your probation officer with the court? Typically, the court sets a hearing to discuss the violation(s) that has/have been charged, a warrant is issued, and sometimes a “no bond hold” is requested if the court and the State of Indiana see fit. Once you are brought before the judge, the court, much like in a criminal case, will have an initial hearing on the alleged violations, and at that hearing the judge will discuss the potential penalties, whether you will be taken into custody as a result, and the standard of proof for the State to prevail. You will be asked if you understand your rights and the ramifications of an admission, and then you will either admit or deny the allegations.
More often than not, parties agree to what the punishment will be, and then the judge either accepts or rejects the recommendation and imposes the sanction. However, if a defendant denies the allegations, a contested hearing will be set whereby the State of Indiana has the burden of proving the violation did in fact occur. With that said, the standard of proof is much, much lower in probation violation hearings. Unlike a criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard in these hearing is a simple, “preponderance of the evidence.” In layman’s terms, is it more likely than not that you committed the violation? If you couple the lowered standard of proof with relaxed rules of evidence and reliable hearsay being admitted, the bar is very low for the State to meet.
Assuming a violation is proven, typical punishments range from additional community service hours, additional probationary terms (i.e. classes, treatment, etc.), extending the length of your probation period or sentence, and/or revoking your probation completely requiring you to serve the entire suspended portion of your sentence in custody of some type (jail and/or community corrections).
As anyone can see, it’s crucial that any criminal defense attorney you hire understands probation and probation violations as the ramifications couldn’t be higher.  Call the Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC at 317.870.0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com. As former prosecutors and experienced litigators, we will fight for your rights, every step of the way. Call today for a free consultation.