Review of Federal Probation and Supervised Release Violations
A person convicted of a federal crime will rarely receive a probation only sentence. Instead, many people serve a term of supervised release after spending several months or years in a federal prison facility.
When this occurs, the defendant's supervised release will be monitored by the United States probation office as soon as they are released from prison.
Supervised release normally requires strict monitoring and compliance for three to five years, depending on the specific circumstances of the federal case.
Readers should note that any type of federal probation or supervised release will usually result in a defendant being closely monitored, including regular reports to a federal probation officer, who is responsible for implementing the conditions you must follow.
Put simply, the chances of violating the terms of release are a constant concern by most, and if there are allegations you violated, then there are legal options.
Based on the specific classification of the alleged probation violation, a seasoned defense attorney might be able to negotiate with the probation officer to not make a report.
Being accused of a probation violation can feel like a significant step backward. To help ease this anxiety, our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing some basics about probation violations that you should know.
Probation vs. Supervised Release
18 U.S.C. § 3561 gives courts the authority to sentence someone to a term of probation or to order supervised release after incarceration.
Probation as a sentence is available unless the offense is a Class A or B felony or the statute for the crime expressly precludes probation as a sentence. Probation terms generally run:
- One to five years for a felony;
- Not more than five years for a misdemeanor, and
- Not more than one year for an infraction.
In contrast, supervised release is not the sentence itself. Instead, the purpose of supervised release is to facilitate a person's reentry into society following a term of imprisonment. Generally, supervised release terms are:
- Not more than 5 years for a Class A or B felony;
- Not more than 3 years for a Class C or D felony; and
- Not more than 1 year for Class E felonies and misdemeanors.
Courts must impose a term of supervised release for specific first-time offenses or when required by statute. Courts may impose a supervised release term following a felony or misdemeanor offense in any other circumstance.
Common Probation Conditions
Under 18 U.S.C. § 3563, the court must impose several mandatory conditions to any term of probation or supervised release. These conditions include orders that the defendant:
- Meet with probation officer regularly;
- Not commit another crime while on probation;
- Pay restitution or perform community service for a felony conviction unless the court imposed a fine or circumstances make this condition unreasonable;
- Refrain from illegal possession or use of drugs;
- Submit to drug testing;
- Attend mental health or substance abuse treatment;
- Pay the required special assessment;
- Pay fines according to an installment schedule if applicable;
- Maintain steady employment;
- Complete an educational program;
- Notify the court of any material economic changes affecting their ability to pay fines, fees, or restitution;
- Attend a rehabilitation program if their matter involves a domestic violence offense;
- Comply with registration requirement if their conviction requires sex offender registration; and
- Submit to a D.N.A. test if authorized by 34 U.S.C. § 40702.
In addition to these mandatory conditions, the court may also order discretionary probation conditions such as finding suitable employment, refraining from possession of a firearm, and ongoing treatment.
How is a Probation Violation Defined?
A probation violation occurs when someone on probation or under federally supervised release violates a condition.
18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) gives courts the authority to extend or revoke a probation sentence for violations, depending on the circumstances.
As with any other federal offense, the sentencing potential of a probation breach depends on the severity of the violation.
What Are Some Common Supervised Release Violations?
The terms of your supervised release is determined by the federal court with assistance from the United States Probation Office based on the severity of the underlying offense.
As noted, those on supervised release are required to have regular meetings with a probation officer. Some of the most common violations include:
- Failing to report to a scheduled meeting with probation;
- Failure to pay court-ordered fines or restitution;
- Failing to report a new contact with law enforcement;
- Failing an alcohol or drug test;
- Failing to report an address change;
- Travelling outside a designated area;
- Committing a new crime.
If you violate any terms of your release, then your federal probation officer could request warrant for your arrest be issued by the court.
After you are arrested, you will be brought before a federal judge who will determine the consequences of violating probation, which is typically based on the severity of the violation.
The judge could decide to place more severe conditions of your release, extend the period of supervised release, or can revoke your release and order a new federal prison sentence.
Grade A Violations
Grade A violations include the commission of a federal, state, or local offense involving a 1) crime of violence, 2) illegal drugs, or 3) the possession of a firearm or destructive device that is punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year; or a federal, state, or local crime punishable by a term of incarceration exceeding 20 years.
Grade B Violations
Grade B violations include any federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year.
Grade C Violations
Finally, Grade C includes any federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or less; or the violation of any other probation condition.
Readers should note that on Grade A or B violations, the probation officer must report these to the federal court, and you are likely to face another prison term even if no separate criminal prosecution occurs.
On Grade C violations, your lawyer might be able to persuade your probation officer the violation was minor and won't happen again. Of course, the goal is to not to make a report to the court.
What are the Probation Violation Procedures?
The hearing process for a violation begins once a probation officer notifies the sentencing court that they believe a defendant violated one or more conditions.
Once this occurs, the court will either summon the defendant or order their arrest. It will then conduct a series of hearings to determine whether the defendant committed a violation. These hearings include an:
- initial appearance,
- a preliminary hearing, and
- a revocation hearing.
Unlike criminal trials, the burden of proof for a probation violation isn't as high as beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the court only must find a greater than 50% chance that the probation officer's claims are valid.
What are Some Defenses for Violating?
Many people who are on federal supervised release don't believe minor violations of their probation are a serious issue and that their probation officer won't report them to the court.
Readers should note federal probation officers are not your friend and looking to give you a break in spite of their apparent friendlessness.
Many people are returned to a federal prison due to a supervised release violation they considered was minor, but was violated often.
Having experienced defense counsel who known the federal criminal process is crucial in allegations of a probation violation. For Grade C and other minor violations, having the right defense is critical.
As noted above, we might be able to convince your probation officer that your violation was minor and not part of a continuing pattern. Therefore, the officer doesn't need to report it to the sentencing court.
Conversely, probation officers must report Grade A and B violations. However, the right legal counsel can prepare a defense designed to ensure the best possible outcome for the hearings ahead.
Eisner Gorin LLP serves clients in California and throughout the United States from our two office locations in Los Angeles County. For an initial consultation, call our law firm at 877-781-1570.