If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you may have been sentenced to a period of probation rather than jail or prison. While it is understandably a relief not to have to serve a prison sentence, you need to recognize that probation is not a “free pass” but rather a penalty with strict rules that you need to take seriously. Read on to learn more about how probation works and what can happen if you violate your probation in Colorado.
What Is Probation?
If you were convicted of a low-level crime in Colorado, the judge may have recognized that prison would be a disproportionate sentence, and he or she may have sentenced you to probation as an alternative. The court will set terms and conditions from your probation, some of which are the same for everyone (committing another crime would obviously be considered a probation violation, for example) and some of which may be specific to your case (if you were charged with a DUI, you might be required to attend substance abuse counseling and submit to random drug and alcohol testing).
Once you are placed on probation, the Colorado Judicial Branch requires you to report to the Probation Office, where you will be assigned a Probation Officer to manage your case. This correctional officer is responsible for making sure that you don’t violate any of the terms and conditions of your probation. Depending on your case, you may be required to regularly check in with your Probation Officer or to work with him or her to make sure you meet specific benchmarks (such as completing a certain number of community service hours or paying restitution).
Common Probation Violations
Probation violation is a crime in and of itself, and you commit it when you either violate or fail to complete any of the terms and conditions of your probation. While this means that any probation violations will largely depend on the specific terms laid out by the Court in your case, some common causes of probation violation include:
- Committing another crime
- Failure to pay fees (in Colorado, everyone on probation must pay a $50 monthly supervision fee in addition to any other fines and fees the Court may assign, although it is possible to set up a lower payment schedule based on your personal financial means)
- Failure to pay restitution (any amount that the judge has ordered you to pay to the victim of your crime)
- Failure to complete community service or court-ordered counseling
- Missing scheduled court dates
- Failure to report to your Probation Officer
- Testing positive for drug or alcohol use
- Losing your job
- Consorting with known criminals
- Leaving the city or region that the Court has ordered you to stay in during your period of probation
What Happens If You Violate Probation
Typically, your penalty for violating the terms of your probation is left up to your Probation Officer. Depending on the severity of your violation, your Probation Officer may start out by giving you a warning, and as long as you don’t violate your probation again, you will face no further consequences. However, if you commit another violation, or if your first violation is more severe (such as you leaving the city without telling your probation officer), you will have to go to court for a probation violation hearing. During this hearing, you will need to be able to show that you did not actually violate the terms of your parole, or you will risk suffering a harsher penalty, such as:
- A longer probation sentence or stricter probation requirements
- A jail sentence in addition to your probation
- Additional fines
In extreme cases, the judge might even revoke your probation and you may face a longer jail or prison sentence instead.
If you are being charged with probation violation, you need to make every effort to prevent this charge from turning in a harsher penalty. Because your Probation Officer needs to be able to prove that you actually violated the terms of your probation, you may be able to fight the probation violation charge with the help of an experienced defense attorney.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that probation is an insignificant penalty. If you’re on probation, you’re being given a chance to make amends without going to prison, and you need to be sure that you stay within the terms of your probation to the best of your ability so that you can get a fresh start once your probation period is over.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.