How Violations of Probation Are Handled in Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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When an individual is convicted of a criminal offense in Tennessee, one of the potential sentencing options is probation. While this alternative to incarceration provides individuals with a degree of freedom, it also requires adherence to specific conditions. If those conditions are violated, the consequences can be severe. In this guide, we will take a deep dive into how violations of probation are handled in Tennessee, and what steps to take if you find yourself in this situation.

What is Probation and its Conditions?

Before we delve into probation violations, it’s important to understand what exactly probation entails. Probation is a sentencing alternative that allows convicted individuals to serve their sentences outside of jail or prison, provided they comply with certain conditions set by the court. These conditions often include regular check-ins with a probation officer, substance testing, employment or educational requirements, and the mandate to avoid committing any additional crimes.

What Constitutes a Violation of Probation in Tennessee?

Violations of probation occur when an individual fails to adhere to the conditions set forth in their probation agreement. In Tennessee, these can be split into two categories: technical violations and substantive violations.

Technical Violations

Technical violations occur when an individual fails to meet the specified conditions of their probation, such as missing an appointment with their probation officer, failing a drug or alcohol test, or not meeting employment requirements. Some examples include:

Missing Appointments: Probationers are required to maintain regular appointments with a probation officer. Failure to keep these appointments constitutes a technical violation.

Substance Abuse: Many probationers are required to undergo regular drug or alcohol testing. A failed test, or refusal to take a test, would be considered a technical violation.

Employment or Education Requirements: Probation may include requirements for maintaining employment or participating in education. Failure to meet these conditions also qualifies as a technical violation.

Residency Requirements: Some probationers may be required to maintain a specific residence or refrain from leaving a particular area. Changes in residency without approval or travel beyond specified boundaries can result in a technical violation.

Substantive Violations 

Substantive violations occur when an individual on probation commits a new crime. This breach is considered more severe than technical violations because it reflects new criminal behavior rather than a failure to comply with administrative aspects of the probation terms. Even if the new crime seems minor, it can have serious implications for a probationer.

Consequences of Violating Probation

Probation is an act of leniency by the court system, affording individuals the chance to serve their sentence within the community rather than in prison. However, this leniency does not extend to violations of the conditions of probation. In Tennessee, the consequences for violating probation can be far-reaching.

The specific consequences largely depend on the nature of the violation, the severity of the original crime, the individual’s criminal history, and the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. Here is an overview of possible consequences:

Warning or Reprimand: For minor or first-time technical violations, a probation officer might issue a warning or reprimand. This serves as an official notice that any further violations will lead to more serious consequences.

Probation Extension: In some cases, a judge may choose to extend the probation period as a consequence for the violation. This means the individual must continue to live under the imposed restrictions for a longer duration than originally sentenced.

Additional Conditions: A judge might also impose additional conditions on the probation. For instance, if a probationer fails a drug test, they may be required to attend drug counseling or rehabilitation, or the individual might be required to attend more frequent meetings with their probation officer. 

Probation Revocation: The most severe consequence is the revocation of probation. When probation is revoked, the individual is typically sent to jail or prison to serve the remaining portion of their original sentence. This consequence is generally reserved for multiple violations or a substantive violation involving the commission of a new crime.

Incarceration: In the case of a new crime being committed, a probationer may face new charges and additional sentencing on top of revocation of their probation. This can lead to extended incarceration beyond the original sentence.

Given these potential consequences, probation should not be taken lightly. It is not merely a set of guidelines—it is a legally binding agreement. Violating this agreement can create serious complications in a criminal case, potentially leading to a complete revocation of the probation status and a return to incarceration. Therefore, maintaining compliance with probation conditions is of utmost importance.

What Should I Do If I've Violated My Probation?

If you’ve violated the conditions of your probation in Tennessee, it’s normal to feel anxious or uncertain about what steps to take next. However, there are a few key steps you should follow to navigate this situation effectively:

  1. Acknowledge the Violation: Ignoring a probation violation won’t make it go away—more often, it will lead to more strict consequences. If you realize that you’ve violated your probation terms, it is essential to address it immediately.
  2. Document the Details: Keeping a detailed record of the circumstances surrounding the violation can prove beneficial for your case. Whether the violation is technical or substantive, make a note of what happened, including dates, times, locations, and anyone else involved. This record will be valuable when discussing the matter with your attorney and preparing your defense.
  3. Inform Your Legal Counsel: If you have legal representation, inform them of the violation as soon as possible. Provide them with all the relevant details and collaborate closely with them. Their experience and knowledge will be vital in determining the best course of action and guiding you through the legal processes.
  4. Cooperate Fully: Cooperation is key during this period. Be open and honest with your attorney and follow their advice. This extends to interactions with your probation officer and the court. Any signs of non-cooperation or dishonesty could negatively impact your case.
  5. Prepare for the Probation Violation Hearing: If you’re accused of a probation violation in Tennessee, you’re entitled to a hearing. This hearing determines whether a violation took place and what the potential consequences will be. Your attorney will guide you in preparing for this hearing, which includes reviewing the specifics of your case, gathering any supporting documents, and developing your defense strategy.

Remember, violating probation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be automatically sent to prison. With the right steps, detailed documentation, cooperation, and legal assistance, you can manage this situation effectively and seek a favorable outcome.

Reach Out to Barnes & Fersten Today

Violations of probation can carry serious consequences, and the path forward can feel uncertain. But with the right legal support, you can effectively manage this situation. Barnes & Fersten’s legal team is dedicated to excellence in criminal defense, ensuring that your case is handled with utmost dedication and professionalism. If you’re facing a probation violation, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact Barnes & Fersten today for a consultation and take the first step towards peace of mind.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.