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 Violations Of Federal Probation Or Supervised Release 

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Michael Santos

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Violations of federal probation or supervised release are serious and can result in incarceration. Sentence mitigation strategies can help.


When the government accuses a person of committing a new crime or violating probation or supervised release conditions, they can face proceedings to revoke their probation or supervised release. 

The potential sentence for a violation of federal probation or supervised release conditions includes incarceration and depends on the severity of the violation. 

In a federal criminal case, people can receive a sentence of probation (or community supervision). If the person receives a prison term instead, the federal sentence also typically includes a period of supervised release (or community supervision) after prison. 

*Pro-Tip: Remember to consult legal counsel for all matters related to any criminal court case or criminal investigation.


US Probation Services is responsible for community supervision on behalf of the federal courts. Therefore, US Probation Services monitors people sentenced either directly to probation or supervised release after prison.

The US Federal Courts describe US Probation & Pretrial Services as:

  • the community corrections arm of the federal judiciary;
  • part of the US district courts;
  • a key player in the federal criminal justice process at both the pretrial and post-conviction stages;
  • a national system of employees, who include probation and pretrial services officers and officer assistants; information technology, budget, and human resources professionals; and support staff; and 
  • a national system with a shared mission, professional identity, goals, and values.

US probation officers are considered the “eyes and ears” of the federal courts and help investigate and supervise persons charged with or convicted of federal crimes. Specifically, probation officers:

  • gather and verify information about persons who come before the courts;
  • prepare reports that the courts rely on to make release and sentencing decisions;
  • supervise persons released to the community by the courts and paroling authorities;
  • direct persons under supervision to services to help them stay on the right side of the law, including substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, medical care, training, and employment assistance.

(Click here for additional information about US Probation Services provided by US Probation Services.)

US Probation Services helps the federal courts realize the goals and mission of supervised release. According to the US court system, the primary purpose of supervised release is to facilitate the reintegration of people back into the community after completing a federal prison sentence. 

The term of federal supervised release at the end of a prison sentence generally runs anywhere from one year up to five years. However, in some situations, sentencing judges order more than five years of supervised release. Even more, there are cases where a person can receive lifetime community supervision.


When a federal probation officer (or police) claims a federal probation violation, federal probation lawyers and sentencing mitigation experts can help clients craft a plan to mitigate the possible consequences. 

In the best-case scenario, and depending on the severity of the violation, a carefully crafted mitigation strategy can convince a probation officer not to report the violation to the court.

Federal probation or supervised release violations receive a grade according to severity. Severity levels are as follows:

Grade A Violations — conduct constituting (A) a federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year that (i) is a crime of violence, (ii) is a controlled substance offense, or (iii) involves possession of a firearm or destructive device of a type described in 26 USC § 5845(a); or (B) any other federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding twenty years;

Grade B Violations — conduct constituting any other federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year;

Grade C Violations — conduct constituting (A) a federal, state, or local offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or less; or (B) a violation of any other condition of supervision.

US federal probation officers have no discretion for Grade A and B violations and must report those violations to the court. In those cases, the accused faces a term of incarceration based upon the grade of the violation and criminal history.

For Grade C violations, staying out of prison depends in large part on whether the accused can show that the conduct at issue:

  • Is minor conduct;
  • Is not part of a continuing pattern;
  • Does not present a risk to others or the general public; and
  • The conduct is not subject to court-ordered reporting requirements. 


A person under arrest for allegedly violating probation or supervised release conditions must attend a probable cause hearing in court. 

This initial hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe that a violation occurred. If the court determines there is probable cause that a violation occurred, the next step is a revocation hearing. 

A probation revocation hearing also happens in court in front of a federal judge and without a jury. The defense and the prosecution may present evidence at the hearing in support of or against revocation. 

After the hearing, the judge will rule on whether the accused violated probation or supervised release conditions. If so, the judge can:

  • keep the person on probation or supervised release (depending on the severity of the violation);
  • modify the conditions or the length of the probation or supervised release; or 
  • revoke probation or supervised release.

If the judge decides to revoke, the judge can resentence the person to any sentence initially available for the person’s crime. 

For violations involving possession of drugs or firearms, refusing to take a drug test, or testing positive for drugs more than three times in a year, the judge must revoke probation or supervised release and sentence the person to prison. The federal sentencing guidelines also recommend that the judge revoke probation if the violation stems from a state or federal felony offense.

Note on Supervised Release: If the judge finds that the person violated the terms of supervised release, the judge can send the person to prison for all or part of the maximum term initially available for supervised release. Moreover, the person does not get credit for the time already spent on supervised release.

Upon revocation of supervised release, the imprisonment cannot be longer than:

  • five years for class A felonies;
  • three years for class B felonies;
  • two years for class C and D felonies; and
  • one year for all other crimes.

Finally, a judge ordering someone on supervised release back to prison can order another term of supervised release to follow the time in prison. But the supervised release term cannot exceed the maximum allowed for the person’s original offense. (Here, the person’s time in prison counts toward the maximum term of supervised release.)

Check out this article from Prison Professors about 

Early Termination of Supervised Release.


A violation of probation or supervised release conditions is a serious matter that often results in a term of incarceration. 

Sentencing mitigation strategies can help people facing revocation of their probation or supervised release status.

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, can help clients take steps to mitigate the consequences of an alleged violation of probation or supervised release conditions prior to a revocation hearing. The goal of mitigation in these cases includes avoiding incarceration or obtaining home confinement rather than prison when there is a violation of probation or supervised release.

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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