In Texas, probation violations happen when the rules of probation are broken. A violation can lead to probation being revoked. A judge can also make the terms of probation even stricter. The decision is made during the revocation hearing. There, the prosecutor has to show that probation was violated. In Texas, even minor violations can be enough to revoke probation.
Defendants in a revocation hearing, though, have a right to a lawyer.
1. What is a probation violation in Texas?
Probation violations are broken terms of community supervision.
Probation is a criminal sentence. Rather than being sent to jail, defendants can be put on probation. Under probation, defendants are supervised in the community. There, they can provide financial support for their family. They can also avoid the trauma of jail. Courts impose felony probation in felony cases and misdemeanor probation in misdemeanor cases.
Probation, however, does not mean the defendant can do what they want. They have to abide by the terms of their probation for their entire sentence.
Breaking any of these terms is a probation violation. A violation can happen even if it was trivial.
2. What are the terms of probation?
The terms of probation depend on several factors. In Texas, the most important include:
- the nature and severity of the crime,
- the defendant's criminal history,
- whether the judge thinks that jail is necessary for the defendant, and
- whether community supervision would put other people at risk.
For example, felony probation is longer and stricter than misdemeanor probation.
The terms of probation are often different for different people. However, some common terms are:
- attending regular meetings with a probation officer,
- paying probation fees,
- covering court costs,
- completing drug or alcohol treatment,
- making restitution payments to any victims of the crime,
- not leaving the county without prior approval from the probation officer,
- staying away from known criminal associates or activities,
- consenting to random drug or alcohol testing,
- not getting arrested or charged with another crime,
- relinquishing any firearms in the defendant's possession, and
- performing community service.
Some of these terms require active participation. These include going to drug treatment classes or meeting a probation officer. Others are passive terms that forbid certain conduct. These include rules against traveling or getting arrested.
Passive terms can be broken if they happen at any point during probation. Active terms can be broken if the defendant fails to do it.
3. What happens if law enforcement suspects a probation violation?
If police or prosecutors suspect a probation violation, they will go to court. There, they will file a motion to adjudicate probation. The court will then issue an arrest warrant. Once the person on probation is arrested, they can be held in county jail. A revocation hearing will be scheduled.
4. What happens at the revocation hearing?
The revocation hearing is held by the judge. Texas does not use a jury for probation revocation hearings.
On one side, there is the prosecutor from the District Attorney's office. He or she will have the burden of proof. They have to prove that there was a probation violation. They have to show this by a preponderance of the evidence. This is much lower than the standard from the criminal trial. There, the prosecutors had to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the other side are the defendant and his or her defense lawyer. They can challenge the prosecutor's case. They can argue that there was no probation violation. They can also stress that the violation was minor and probation should not be revoked.
If the judge rules that probation was not violated, the defendant goes free. Probation resumes.
If the judge rules that there was a violation, though, he or she can either:
- revoke probation and send the defendant to jail, or
- release the defendant but tighten the rules of probation.
If the defendant is released, the terms of probation will be much stricter. They can also be longer. The probationer will likely become ineligible for early termination. Early termination can end probation before its set end date. Probationers with a prior violation almost never qualify for early termination.
If the defendant is sent to jail, the time spent on probation will not count towards the jail sentence.
5. Can a deferred adjudication be revoked?
An alleged probation violation is especially serious if the defendant received deferred adjudication.
Deferred adjudication is a criminal sentence. However, it comes before the final verdict. Judges can defer the verdict if the defendant pleads guilty. However, the final verdict is delayed. The defendant then has a chance to complete a probation sentence, first.
If the defendant completes probation, the criminal charge is dismissed. It will not go on the defendant's criminal record.
However, if the defendant violates their probation and it gets revoked, the case resumes. The verdict is finalized and the case goes straight to sentencing. The defendant can go to jail. The judge can issue a jail sentence according to the range of the original offense. The defendant will have a criminal record from the verdict.