Tennessee Probation Violations: Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions

Who gets put on probation, what does it entail? In Tennessee, a judge can sentence someone to jail, probation, or a combination of both. Generally speaking, probation is often granted to offenders who have little or no prior criminal history and are charged with lower-level felonies or misdemeanors.

What is probation?

Probation is a type of sentence in which a person is not placed in jail but released into the community under court supervision and monitored for a set period of time.  This is usually coupled with a suspended sentence.  In Tennessee, a suspended sentence is most often the same length of time as a period of probation. For example, a defendant who receives a one-year suspended sentence is most often placed on probation for the same amount of time. This court supervision is usually conducted by a probation officer. Each probation office maintains standard rules and conditions of probation. A judge may place specific and or additional conditions or rules of probation in any case.  If you violate your probation, the court could place your previously suspended sentence into effect and send you to jail.

What are the rules of probation?

The rules or conditions of probation vary from case to case.  Probation usually involves supervision by some type of probation office.  This may be a local office of the state board of probation and parole, a county probation department, or a private company with a government contract to provide probation services.  Conditions associated with a probation sentence may be noted in the court’s judgment form in a case or in a separate document usually referred to as a probation contract.  Each agency usually has a standard probation contract which they use in every case.  Common rules or conditions of probation include reporting to your probation officer on some set schedule, not committing any crimes, reporting any new arrests to your probation officer, and paying any fines and court costs in a timely manner.  There are usually monthly supervision fees charged while on probation.  These average around $35 to $45 a month.

How do you get charged with a probation violation?

If you violate any rule of your probation you can be charged with a probation violation.  If a probation officer believes you have violated your probation, he or she will file a probation violation warrant that sets out the reason or reasons they believe you violated your probation.  This is submitted for a judge to review, and if approved by the judge, a warrant is issued for your arrest.

Can you post bail?

When a judge initially reviews a probation violation warrant submitted to him by a probation officer, he may set conditions of release.  A judge may order that the person accused of a probation violation be held without bail, set bail in a specific amount, allow the person to be released on their own recognizance or any other terms the judge deems appropriate.

What punishment can the judge give me for a probation violation?

If a judge rules that you have violated your probation, the judge could send you to jail for the full length of your suspended sentence.  The judge could, however, place you back on probation or order a combination of jail and probation.  The judge could place additional conditions on your probation or increase the length of your probation.

What happens at the court hearing for a probation violation?

You have the right to a hearing in front of a judge to determine whether you have violated your probation.  The judge will determine first whether you have violated your probation, and second, if so, the appropriate punishment.  At the hearing, the State has the burden to present proof establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that you violated your probation.  You may not have a jury trial for a probation violation.  You may present evidence on your own behalf.  You may wish to present evidence not just about whether your violated your probation, but also proof relevant to whether the judge should give you another chance at completing your probation or other some other sentence less than making you serve your whole suspended sentence.

What can I do to prepare for a probation violation?

Do anything and everything the Probation Officer has said you failed to do so far.  Pay fines and courts costs (get receipts), perform community service work, take classes, etc.  Additionally, gather documentation that you are working or get a job if you don’t have one already.  If you are in school, get documentation of that.  Get documentation of any treatment you have received, or seek treatment for any condition appropriate.  You may wish to get drug screens from walk in clinics on a weekly basis to present in court.  Gather letters of support and/or people willing to testify on your behalf regarding work, character, home life, family obligations, etc.

If my probation is violated, do I get credit for street time?

Probably not.  You only get credit for time actually served in jail after being first charged with this case or after being served with a probation violation warrant.  If you are serving a community corrections sentence, you can get credit for time you have been supervised in the community.

Can I appeal a probation violation?

Yes, but these are very difficult to win.  Depending on the circumstance, there may be additional courses of action to consider such as filing a motion to modify a sentence or a petition to suspend a sentence.