Probation Law & Legal Definition


Many people who are convicted of crimes are placed on probation, instead of being sent to prison. During probation, offenders must stay out of trouble and meet various other requirements. Probation officers, who are called community supervision officers in some states, supervise people who have been placed on probation.

Probation departments provide services to the community include recommending sanctions to the court, enforcing court orders, operating correctional institutions, incarcerating delinquents, assisting victims and providing corrective assistance to individuals in conflict with the law. Probation officers investigate the background of offenders brought before the court, write presentence reports, and make sentencing recommendations for each offender. Officers review sentencing recommendations with offenders and their families before submitting them to the court. Officers may be required to testify in court as to their findings and recommendations. They also attend court hearings to update the court on the offender's compliance with the terms of his or her sentence and on the offender's efforts at rehabilitation.

A few states allow unsupervised probation. Typically, it is available for minor offenses by offenders whose class of offense, prior record or conviction level authorize community punishment as a sentence. This may consist of a self reporting, mail-in program, with the probation officer monitoring compliance with all conditions of the sentence, including monthly review of the defendant's criminal history. A petition to modify condition of probation/order is sometimes filed when there are objections to the terms of probation. The objections may be based on various grounds, such as illegality, change of circumstances, need to have travel restrictions lifted, among others. Rules and conditions vary by jurisdiction, so your local probation department should be consulted for specific requirements in your area.

To have jurisdiction to revoke probation or supervised release, a district court must issue a warrant or summons that is based on an alleged violation of a condition of probation or supervised release prior to the expiration of the period of supervision. On September 13, 1994, Congress amended the statutory revocation provisions to permit courts to exercise their power to revoke probation or supervised release even after the expiration of the supervision period as long as the warrant or summons was issued before the expiration of the upervision period.

If a defendant is held in custody on the basis of a violation of probation or supervised release, he must be given a prompt hearing to determine if there is probable cause to hold him. The defendant must be given notice of the hearing, an opportunity to appear and present evidence, an opportunity to question opposing witnesses (if requested), and notice of the right to counsel. However, where a defendant has a hearing limited to the issue of detention in the course of which the alleged violation is described, the defendant waives his right to a probable cause hearing unless he specifically requests one.

In revoking parole or probation, a court must issue a written statement specifying the evidence it relied upon and its reasons for its decision to revoke. However, there is an exception when written findings are not required, and due process is satisfied, where oral findings, if recorded or transcribed, create a record sufficient to advise the parties of the reasons for revocation and to permit appellate review. Different rules apply in state courts, so local law should be consulted.

In some states, the victim has a right to request a probation review hearing. The following is an example of one state's statute dealing with probation review hearings:

  1. If the board receives information that a licensee has violated a term or condition of an order of probation issued under subsection of this section during the effective period of that order, the board shall investigate the allegations as necessary. The board shall have all of the powers outlined in KRS 311.591(2) and 311.605(2) to conduct its investigation.
  2. Upon completion of its inquiry relating to a violation of probation, the hearing panel shall make a finding that:

    1. The investigation does not disclose a violation of the order of probation;
    2. The investigation discloses a violation of a term or condition of the order of probation but that revocation of probation and imposition of the previously fixed sanction may not be necessary for protection of the public, and the panel may admonish or issue a letter of concern to the physician stating its findings and cautioning that another violation shall result in revocation of probation and imposition of the previously fixed sanction; or
    3. The investigation discloses one (1) or more violations of the terms and conditions of the order of probation, and the panel shall cause a motion to revoke probation to be prepared and signed by the presiding officer. The motion shall identify the term or condition violated and include a general statement of the nature of the violation and shall set a date and time for a revocation hearing.
  3. The hearing panel shall cause the motion to revoke probation to be served on the physician by personal delivery or by certified mail to the last address on record with the board for the physician or the physician's representative.
  4. The hearing on the motion to revoke probation shall be conducted in accordance with KRS Chapter 13B, but the single issue to be decided shall be whether the physician has violated a term or condition of the order of probation. Any recommended order issued under KRS 13B.110 shall be limited to recommended findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law.

Upon completion of the hearing on the motion to revoke probation, the hearing panel shall issue an order that:

  1. Denies the motion upon a conclusion that the order of probation has not been violated;
  2. Finds a violation of the order of probation but does not impose the previously fixed sanction and the panel may:
  1. Modify the terms and conditions of probation to address issues presented during the hearing; or
  2. Admonish the physician or issue a letter of concern to the physician; or
  3. Imposes the previously fixed sanction.