Understanding a Probation Violation Case

Understanding a Probation Violation Case

If you have been sentenced in Michigan for a violation of any misdemeanor or felony law, then the judge likely placed you on a term of probation. Technically speaking, you may be placed on probation if the court determines that you are unlikely to engage in any criminal conduct again, and that the public good does not require you to go to jail.  For these reasons, probation is considered a privilege and not a right.

During the probationary period you will be ordered to comply with various terms and conditions of probation.  A failure to comply with these terms and conditions may result in your being served with a “show cause.” You will usually receive this document in the mail.  The purpose of this document is to notify you that you are being charged with an alleged violation of probation.  This document also directs you to appear in court and “show cause” as to why you should not be held in contempt of court for violating your probation.

The first step in a violation of probation case is the arraignment.  At this arraignment you will learn of the specific allegations against you and you will be asked to either plead guilty or not guilty to the violation. If you do not plead guilty then the matter will be set for a hearing. This hearing is usually set for a different date.  At this show cause hearing the prosecutor will be required to call witnesses to establish that you failed to comply with at least one term of probation.

The burden of proof at a violation of probation hearing is only the “preponderance of the evidence.”  This low burden of proof simply requires the prosecutor to show that the alleged violations are more likely to be true than not true.  It is helpful to know that the burden of proof applicable to criminal cases, that being “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a far higher standard of proof.  Also, the rules of evidence are relaxed at a probation violation hearing, and hearsay is generally admissible.  This all means that proving that a violation of probation occurred is much easier for a prosecutor than proving that a criminal charge occurred.  Also, you have no right to a jury on a probation violation charge.  The judge on your case will be making the decision as to whether the prosecutor met his or her burden of proof.

Some of the more common causes for probation violations include testing positive for drugs or alcohol, failing to complete court ordered community service, and failing to pay fines and costs. When the allegations involve positive drug or alcohol test, the evidence will include chemical test reports.  In many instances probation violation cases can be resolved without jail time, but up to 93 days in jail is always a possibility.

If you are found guilty of the violation of probation, then the judge will impose a new sentence.  This new sentence can include a new or additional term of incarceration, or the court can modify your probation so as to assist you and the court in meeting the goals and objectives of probation. For example, if you are found guilty of violation of probation because you failed a drug or alcohol test, then the court could increase the number of times you test, or change the testing methods or procedures. You could also be required to attend more support group meetings, or even start with more formal inpatient or outpatient substance use treatment. Whether you plead guilty or are found guilty by the court, your attorney can assist you in obtaining the most favorable sentence.

In the worst-case scenarios your probation can be revoked.  If that happens that you may well be remanded to jail.  Revocation can happen when, during probation, the judge determines that you are likely again to engage in criminal conduct or that the public good requires revocation of probation. For more information, you may wish to consult the law that covers violations of probation, which is found at Michigan Compiled Laws § MCL 771.4.

If you are charged with a violation of probation then it is always best to retain a lawyer to assist you, and your lawyer will also be able to answer your questions about your rights and obligations when faced with an alleged violation of probation.

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