In Colorado criminal cases, unsupervised probation is a more relaxed form of probation reserved for low-level misdemeanor cases and first-time offenders. You report directly to the court rather than being supervised by a probation officer.
Unsupervised probation is often less expensive than supervised probation because there are fewer fees to pay. It is also less inconvenient.
If you break the terms of your probationary release, you can face serious consequences. You could go back to jail. You could also have your probation revoked and replaced with new, stricter terms.
|Supervised Probation||Unsupervised Probation|
|Oversight||Must regularly report to a state or municipal probation officer (P.O.) who monitors compliance with court-ordered conditions||Must report to court rather than a probation officer|
|General conditions||Avoiding drugs and alcohol, holding down a job, checking in regularly with your P.O., and not breaking the law.||Avoiding drugs and alcohol, holding down a job, checking in regularly with the court, and not breaking the law.|
|Electronic monitoring||In some cases||No|
|Eligibility||Low-risk offenders and some moderate-risk repeat offenders charged with misdemeanor or some felony crimes||Low-risk offenders charged with nonviolent misdemeanor crimes|
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is unsupervised probation?
- 2. What are the terms?
- 3. What are the benefits?
- 4. What is the purpose of unsupervised probation?
- 5. What are the penalties for violating unsupervised probation?
- 6. What happens if I fail a UA?
- 7. Can I leave Colorado while on probation?
- 8. Can I get off probation early?
- Additional resources
1. What is unsupervised probation?
With unsupervised probation in Colorado, you do not report to a probation officer (P.O.). Instead, you report your progress directly to the D.A. or court clerk.
Unsupervised probation – which usually lasts six months to a year – is relatively rare. Most of the time, this release is supervised. Courts tend to only issue unsupervised probation if:
- You do not have any prior criminal convictions and are considered low-risk,
- You were convicted for a low-level misdemeanor, and
- You have already completed most or all of your terms while under supervision.
Supervised probation is typically imposed in serious Colorado cases involving
Unsupervised probation often comes after a period of supervised probation: Courts first have you complete most of your requirements under supervision, and then they shift you into unsupervised release because there is little else to monitor.2
2. What are the terms?
There are “general” terms of probation in Colorado that everyone has to follow, such as staying out of trouble. Then there are “specific” or “special” terms that are tailored to your specific case.
Twenty of the most common conditions of probation (unsupervised or supervised) include:
- Completing domestic violence classes or DUI School,
- Attending counseling,
- Undergoing alcohol or drug treatment/rehabilitation,
- Paying restitution to victims of the crime,
- Paying court costs,
- Covering the supervision fee for probationary release,
- Staying sober and abstaining from drugs (unless you have a current and valid prescription),
- Remaining employed,
- Relinquishing your firearms and other weapons, such as knives,
- Performing community service,
- Attending victim impact panels,
- Regularly checking in with a P.O., and allowing P.O.s to come to your home or place of work,
- Consenting to warrantless searches of your home, car, or person,
- Submitting to drug tests (breath tests and urine analysis),
- Having no contact with the victim,
- Avoiding certain locations (such as playgrounds if your charge was for a child sex crime),
- Avoiding contact with felons,
- Continually updating personal information, including your address and employment information,
- Compiling certificates of completion and other written proof of completing your terms for you to show to the court, and
- Not leaving the state of Colorado without prior written approval.1
3. What are the benefits?
In unsupervised probation, you do not have to deal with a P.O. Instead, you can report directly to the Colorado court, and your compliance is monitored by the court clerk and district attorney. The benefits of this setup include:
- Not having to pay supervision fees, which can cost $50 per month,
- No longer having to meet with your P.O. every month, and
- Fewer sobriety checks or drug tests.
When probation is unsupervised, it drastically reduces the costs and hassle.3
One potential downside of unsupervised probation is that by not having a P.O. to remind you of your obligations, you have to be self-sufficient. For instance if you a complete a probationary requirement, it is up to you to bring that proof of completion to the court.
Whether you are on supervised or unsupervised release, remember that any hint of misconduct may cause the probation department to petition to revoke your probation. It is best to avoid all risky situations for as long as you are on probationary release.
4. What is the purpose of unsupervised probation?
Unsupervised probation is easier not only for you but also for the government. With a shortage of staff to monitor probationers, more localities are turning to unsupervised release and allowing probationers to self-report through a “mail-in” program.
Also, by not having to pay supervision fees (which can cost $50 a month), you save a lot of money and hassle.
Plus, supervised probation does not necessarily do more than unsupervised probation in terms of reducing recidivism.4
5. What are the penalties for violating unsupervised probation?
If you violate any of the terms of unsupervised probation in Colorado, the court can:
- Issue a bench warrant,
- Force you to post bail to be released,
- Revoke your probationary release,
- Change the terms to make them more stringent,
- Turn unsupervised probation into supervised, and/or
- Send you to jail.
The penalties for violating probation are especially serious if your release was part of a deferred sentence. In these cases, the original sentence can be imposed. This can include fines and jail time.
Note that if you were on probation as part of a diversion program where you never entered a plea – and then you violate the terms of release – you can be taken out of the diversion program and be prosecuted for the underlying offense as if the diversion never happened.
5.1. Revocation hearings
Before the court can revoke your probation, it must hold a probation revocation hearing. It is like a mini-trial where you and the D.A. can introduce evidence and examine witnesses.
Revocation hearings are actually harder for you to win than criminal trials, where the D.A. has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. At revocation hearings, the D.A. has to prove you violated probation only by preponderance of the evidence – which is a much lower bar.5
6. What happens if I fail a UA?
Violating any term of your probationary release – including failing a urine analysis – puts you at risk of having your probation revoked. Though it may be possible to show at your probation revocation hearing that:
- the urine sample was contaminated;
- someone spiked your drinks/food with drugs; or
- the lab techs conducting the test made a mistake.
In some cases, a judge may give you a second chance to stay on probationary release as long as you have otherwise been compliant.
7. Can I leave Colorado while on probation?
You usually have to get prior approval from the court or your P.O. before you can leave the state, but it depends on the terms of your plea agreement.
8. Can I get off probation early?
You can request to get off of probationary release early by filing a court motion showing “good cause.”6 Learn more in our article, How to apply for early termination of probation.
For more in-depth information, refer to these scholarly articles:
- The Importance of Purpose in Probation Decision Making – Buffalo Criminal Law Review.
- Probation Officer Roles: A Statutory Analysis – Federal Probation.
- A Theory of Probation Supervision – The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science.
- Probation in the United States – Crime and Justice.
- Obey All Laws and Be Good: Probation and the Meaning of Recidivism – Georgetown Law Journal.
- CRS 18-1.3-202. Probation is frequently a part of a plea bargain. Probation is possible for people convicted of anything other than a class 1 felony or class 2 petty offense. See also, for example, Walton v. People, (2019) 451 P.3d 1212;People v. Argott (2021) 486 P.3d 500. Also See, for example, Englewood Municipal Code§ Sec. 1-7A-14 Probation.
- See same.
- Probation FAQs, Colorado Judicial Branch. CRS 18-1.3-204. Note that some probation officers are privately contracted through companies such as RMOMS.
- See same.
- CRS 16-11-206.
- CRS 18-1.3-204.