Federal Probation and Supervised Release Violations
Suppose a defendant is convicted of a federal offense. In that case, they are unlikely to receive just a probationary sentence but rather time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons followed by a term of supervised release.
Once a defendant is released from prison, their supervised release is monitored by the United States probation office, which requires that they comply with the terms of probation for three to five years, which will depend on the details of their federal case.
Notably, federal probation or supervised release typically carries close monitoring, including regular check-ins with a federal probation officer responsible for ensuring they follow the conditions of their probation.
A probation violation occurs when a person on probation or federal supervised release violates a term or condition set by the court.
18 U.S.C. 3553(a) gives federal courts the authority to extend or revoke a probation sentence for violations. The sentencing for a probation violation will always depend on the severity of the violation.
Most people are justly concerned that they might violate the terms of their release and be sent back to prison. When there are alleged violations, an experienced defense lawyer could negotiate with the federal probation officer to avoid making an official report.
In other words, you have some legal options if you are accused of a probation or supervised release violation. Let's review this topic further below.
What's the Difference Between Probation and Supervised Release?
Federal law allows the federal courts to sentence somebody to a term of probation or order supervised release after they are released, as listed below.
“18 U.S. Code 3561 - Sentence of probation
(a) In General. A defendant who has been found guilty of an offense may be sentenced to a term of probation unless—
- The offense is a Class A or Class B felony, and the defendant is an individual;
- (2) the offense is an offense for which probation has been expressly precluded; or
- (3) the defendant is sentenced at the same time to a term of imprisonment for the same or a different offense that is not a petty offense.”
In other words, probation is available unless the federal offense is a Class A or B felony or the statute prohibits probation as a sentence. The terms of probation typically run as follows below:
- One to five years for a felony crime;
- Up to five years for a misdemeanor crime, and
- Up to one year for an infraction.
On the other hand, supervised release is not a sentence in itself; instead, it's designed to facilitate someone's reentry into society after serving time in federal prison. Typically, the supervised release terms are as follows:
- Up to five years for a Class A or B felony;
- Up to three years for a Class C or D felony; and
- Up to one year for Class E felonies and misdemeanors.
Suppose a defendant was convicted of first-time domestic violence. In that case, the federal court must impose a term of supervised release. Further, the courts can impose a supervised release term after a felony or misdemeanor offense in any other circumstance.
What are the Common Conditions of Probation?
18 U.S. Code 3563 Conditions of Probation lists several mandatory conditions for any probation or supervised release term, such as the following:
- Regular meetings with a probation officer;
- Keep steady employment;
- Do not commit any new crimes;
- Do not have illegal possession of drugs or use them;
- Submit to regular drug testing;
- Attend any court-ordered substance abuse treatment;
- Attend mental health program if ordered;
- Attend a rehabilitation program for domestic violence;
- Pay any court-ordered fines, restitution, and special assessment fee;
- Notify the court of any changes affecting the ability to pay fines, etc.:
- If fines are paid in installments, you must pay on time;
- Complete court-ordered community service for a felony conviction;
- Complete any ordered educational programs;
- Comply with registration requirements for sexual-related crimes;
- Submit to a D.N.A. test defined under 34 U.S.C. 40702 collection and use of DNA identification information from certain federal offenders.
Further, the court could also order discretionary probation conditions such as prohibiting firearm possession and maintain treatment in specific programs.
What Are the Common Supervised Release Violations?
The federal district court determines the terms of supervised release with help from the United States Probation Office, which is always based on the severity of the underlying crime. The most common violations include the following:
- Failure to report to a scheduled meeting with the probation officer;
- Failing to report a change of address;
- Going outside designated area without permission;
- Committing a new crime;
- Failing alcohol or drug test;
- Failing to report contact with police;
- Failing to pay court-ordered fines and restitution;
- Committing a new crime.
Suppose you violate the terms of your release. In that case, the federal probation officer can ask the court to issue a warrant for your arrest.
Once arrested, you will appear before a federal judge who determines the penalties for violating probation, depending on the alleged violation's severity. For example, the judge will typically choose one of the following:
- Place more severe conditions on your release;
- Extend the period of supervised release; or
- Revoke your release and order a new prison sentence.
What Are the Different Levels of Violations?
Grade A Violations
Grade A violations include the commission of a federal, state, or local offense involving the following:
- crime of violence;
- illegal drugs; or
- possession of a firearm or destructive device.
These violations are punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding 20 years.
Grade B Violations
Grade B violations include federal, state, or local offense that is punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year.
Grade C Violations
Grade C includes federal, state, or local offenses punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to one year or less; or another condition of probation.
Grade A or B violations must be reported to the federal court because you will likely face another term in federal prison. Grade C violations could be negotiated to convince the prosecutor not to pursue sanctions.
What is the Procedure for a Probation Violation?
Suppose you are accused of violating federal probation. In that case, a hearing will be held after the probation officer notifies the sentencing court that you allegedly broke the conditions.
The federal court judge could either summon the defendant or order their arrest. Next, hearings will be held to determine if you committed a violation. These steps in these hearings include the following:
- initial appearance;
- preliminary hearing; and
- a revocation hearing.
Notably, the burden of proof for a probation violation is not beyond a reasonable doubt, such as required in a criminal trial. Instead, the court only has to determine that there is a greater than 50% chance the claims are valid.
What are the Defenses for a Federal Probation Violation?
Those on federal supervised release often don't think a minor probation violation is a big deal and will not end up in a federal courtroom.
You must understand that a federal probation officer is responsible for reporting violations and will not usually ignore seemingly minor ones.
Many people have been sent back to federal prison for supervised release violations they thought were minor, but the alleged minor violations were committed often.
Suppose you are accused of a violation. In that case, having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer familiar with the process is crucial to a favorable outcome.
For example, for Grade C and other minor violations, perhaps we can persuade your probation officer that your violation was not only very minor but is not a pattern of misconduct and should not be reported to the sentencing court.
Suppose you are facing Grade A and B violations that must be reported. In that case, we can review the details and prepare a defense strategy for the upcoming hearings in federal court.
We offer a free case evaluation. We provide legal representation throughout the United States on federal criminal issues. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.