In Texas, probation works by supervising people who have been convicted of a crime, without forcing them to stay in jail. This is why probation is referred to as community supervision. It also explains why probation has so many terms. The rules of probation in Texas can be very strict. It also explains why probation can be revoked. It explains why a revocation sends a probationer to jail.
1. How does probation work?
Probation works by releasing defendants who have been convicted of a crime. They spend their sentence in the community, rather than jail. By not sending a convicted defendant to jail, judges can cut down on prison overcrowding. By serving their sentence outside of jail, probationers can support their family. They can also avoid the traumatic prison experience.
However, probation is still a form of supervision. Jail sentences in Texas are supervised by jail staff members. Probation officers supervise people on probation. They monitor people while they complete the terms of their probation. Those probation terms show that the probationer is making progress. In Texas, though, they can be quite strict.
2. What are the rules or terms of probation?
The terms, or rules, of probation are the steps that a probationer has to complete during their sentence.
Some of the most common rules of probation are:
- travel restrictions,
- regular meetings with a probation officer,
- community service,
- restitution payments to the victim of the offense,
- paying court costs and probation fees,
- not getting arrested while on probation, and
- drug or alcohol treatment classes.
These are just the most common rules of probation in Texas. The rules of a particular defendant's probation will depend on several factors. Texas law considers important factors to be:
- the nature of the criminal offense that led to the conviction,
- the severity of the crime,
- whether the defendant had a prior criminal conviction, and
- whether the defendant is financially supporting someone.
Example: A probation sentence for driving under the influence (DUI) will almost always include alcohol treatment classes.
Some of these rules are active, and require probationers to take a particular action. These include completing certain classes or treatments.
Other terms of probation are passive, and force probationers to refrain from a certain action. For example, probation forbids defendants from getting arrested or charged with a crime.
3. Can probation restrict traveling?
One of the most common rules for probation is a traveling restriction. People are not allowed to leave their Texas county while on probation. They have to get the probation officer's prior approval.
Leaving the county, for whatever reason, without a travel permit can violate probation. An arrest warrant can be issued. Probation can be revoked and the defendant sent to jail.
This traveling restriction also applies to moving. People on probation cannot change their residence without notifying their probation officer. They also need the officer's prior approval if the move would take them to another county.
3. What happens if a term of probation is violated?
Probation can be revoked if a probationer violates one of its terms.
If the District Attorney's office learns that a term of probation may have been violated, they can file a motion to adjudicate or revoke probation. This asks a court to review someone's probation for a violation. The court will issue an arrest warrant for the probationer. The probationer can be arrested and held in county jail until the revocation hearing.
The prosecutor only has to prove a probation violation happened at the hearing by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a low burden of proof. The defendant can have a lawyer at this hearing. There is no jury.
If the judge decides that there was no violation, the defendant is released. Probation continues.
If the judge decides that there was a violation, he or she can either:
- tighten the terms of probation and release the defendant, or
- send the defendant to jail.
Revocation of probation is especially harsh if the sentence came from a deferred adjudication. In these cases, a jail sentence had been deferred until probation was completed. If probation gets revoked, it usually sends the defendant to jail. The time spent on probation does not count towards the jail sentence.
4. Can probation be terminated early?
Early termination is possible for probation sentences in Texas.
Probation lasts a specific amount of time. Minor offenses can lead to probation sentences of as little as 1 year.
If a probationer completes the active requirements of their probation, the end date can be moved forward. Probationers also cannot have violated any of the passive rules. Any probation violation, no matter how minor, can make early termination impossible.