What Happens If You Violate Felony Probation?

Updated January 16, 2024
10 min read
What Happens If You Violate Felony Probation?


In 2021, the number of people on probation in the United States was 3,745,000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. In fact, the probation rate for adults has been going down for 13 straight years and, at the end of 2020, was at its lowest level in 35 years. However, there are still large numbers of people on probation for felony offenses. 

Frequently, for various reasons, the conditions and restrictions of the probation are violated. Is it a felony? Not necessarily, but the consequence for a felony probation violation can be dire.

What Is a Felony Probation?

Under the U.S. criminal justice system, felony probation is a sentence given to someone arrested, taken into custody, and then convicted of a felony-level offense, as opposed to a misdemeanor, non-violent offense, which is for less serious crimes.

In felony probation scenarios, the judge decides that instead of serving time in prison, a defendant's sentence will be suspended or deferred, and the defendant will be placed on formal probation under the supervision of a probation officer.

This officer is responsible for keeping track of the defendant and maintaining a record of his compliance with the terms of the probation. When a criminal violates the terms of his probation, he may end up back in jail. Still, what happens if you violate felony probation? Let's find it out. 

How Does the Probation Violation Hearing Process Work?

A probation violation hearing is basically the same as a standard court hearing, although it is not as formal as a full jury trial. Like a court hearing, there is a single judge presiding who will decide if the probationer indeed violated his or her probation, and if so, what the outcome should be.

The probationer will need to present evidence and would be best served by having legal representation. In particular, the judge ask the probationer to provide a character reference letter for court. It is also strongly recommended that the probationer dress appropriately and behave in a manner appropriate for the courtroom.

The hearing is usually before the same judge as the continuing matter. However, it could also be heard before a new judge. In this case, the judge would have to familiarize himself with the details of the case. 

If a new judge resides over the matter with little connection to the person or the circumstances, the situation may become complicated, to the detriment of the convicted person. The judge may decide on the outcome without fully grasping the intricacies of the case. This is where the expertise and guidance of a lawyer would come in.  

Common Felony Probation Conditions

If the defendant is compliant with the probation terms, they will not have to serve a prison sentence. Typically, the probationer has to do one or all of the following

  • Report to a probation officer periodically;

  • Pay a fine; 

  • Pay court costs;

  • Pay any restitution;

  • Submit to drug testing;

  • Complete any community service hours; and

  • Commit no offenses during the probation period.

Consequence of a Felony Probation Violation

The probation officer will often request a court hearing if they suspect a probation violation felony. The prosecutor has to meet the burden of proof to show that a breach of the rules of probation occurred. The court will then assess the enforcement's case to determine if there was indeed a violation and what the appropriate punishment should be.

Usually, the same judge that sentenced a probationer will preside over the violation hearing, and the probationer will either admit or deny the violation of felony probation.

The judge will typically assess:

  • The nature and seriousness of the claimed violation;

  • Evidence for or against the claim;

  • Whether this is the first probation violation;

  • Other factors involved that weigh in favor or against the defendant.

The judge will issue the sentence, often considering recommendations from the probation officer. The judge can revoke your probation, impose jail time, reinstate the original probation, or modify your probation terms.

The best-case scenario for felony probation violation: Reinstating probation

These outcomes give the probationer a do-over of their initial probation with the same conditions. This scenario is most likely when it was the probationer's first time violating felony probation, and the violation was minor. 

The nature of the underlying offense lends to the decision, and the probationer hasn't been deemed a threat to the community. 

The probation now has two strikes. If the probation is reinstated and the probationer violates it again, the prior violation will be used against them. 

Second-best scenario: Probation terms modified

This is not as good as returning to the original probation, but it is better than going to jail. 

Usually, in the case of a modification of the probation terms, a judge will either impose stricter conditions or change the existing conditions to help the probationer better comply with the probation conditions. 

Revoking probation: Strike three, and you're out

In this situation, the probationer will be sent to prison for a designated period. Revocation of probation happens when the violation is severe. For example, one may commit another crime. In this case, the probationer will likely be sent to jail for violating probation, and they will also face criminal charges for the new offense.

Common Violations of Probation

Along with "What happens when you violate felony probation?" there is one more important question: "How can you violate probation?" There are many ways in which a person can violate their probation. Below are some of the most common examples:

Missing a court hearing or meeting with a probation officer

Missing a meeting with your probation officer is a big problem and will be considered a felony violation of probation. Your probation officer can report this to the court. 

Equally serious is missing a court hearing, and it is regarded as a severe violation of probation. Additionally, defendants are often required to complete community service hours, and failure to show up for these constitutes a probation violation.

Failing to pay fines or restitution

A judge could require a probationer to pay costs and fines or restitution to the victim. Failure to make these payments could violate probation, and penalties may follow. 

Visiting certain places or people

In addition, a term of probation could be an order to stay away from certain areas or people. If caught in those prohibited areas, people would violate probation or fail to report to a scheduled meeting with probation. Failing to report an address change is also a violation. 

Staying employed, staying out of school

If the court requires a defendant to get a job or go to school as a term of probation, not doing so would be a violation of probation. It's not enough to state that obtaining a job or going to school is difficult. The defendant has to make an effort. 

Committing a crime

Committing another crime while on probation would be problematic and a clear violation of probation felony. This may seem obvious, but nonetheless, it does happen. It is expected that the probation would be revoked and the defendant could end up back in jail. 

Why Do You Need an Attorney?

What happens if you violate probation with a felony and do not have an attorney? Protecting yourself without the assistance of a professional may be problematic. Anytime a person has to go before a court, a legal counsel with experience is imperative. A probationer will want a seasoned criminal defense lawyer by their side as it could be the difference between freedom and jail time.

Probation lawyers have the requisite knowledge and experience to make the best representation in your case. They work on many similar cases and know the intricacies of the law and procedures that apply. 


In felony probation violations, there are often many conditions and restrictions to consider. The opportunities for violation are many and can carry severe consequences and penalties.

When violations occur, the resulting action by the courts can go several different ways. For the best resolution possible, a lawyer should be consulted right away. The seriousness of probation warrants the seriousness of engaging legal counsel to provide much-needed guidance.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.