UPDATED: February 20, 2013
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident law decisions. Finding trusted and reliable legal advice should be easy. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
After being released from prison, there is a generally a period of re-integration known as parole. During the parole period, the parolee is required to comply with certain terms and conditions. Since the parole period is a test to determine if the paroled individual was ready to re-enter society, failure to comply with these terms and conditions can have serious consequences. What those consequences are depends upon the type of violation that occurs and the decision of the parole officer and parole board.
Common Conditions of Parole
When a person is released on parole, he is required to comply with all federal and state laws. He is usually required to remain in the state of his incarceration, or where the crime was committed, and must check in with a parole officer on a routine basis.
Parolees typically are also required to maintain or attempt to maintain steady employment; continue on any educational track they have begun; report regularly to a parole officer; notify their parole officer of any change of address; refrain from possessing, using or administering controlled substances; refrain from possession or control of a firearm or any defensive or deadly weapons; refrain from corresponding with anyone in a correctional facility or on parole; and waive extradition. Submitting to drug testing is also a common condition of parole, and parolees are required to submit to warrantless search and seizure and searches conducted without probable cause.
In addition to the general requirements, parolees may be subject to requirements specific to their offense as required within their state. For instance, in the state of Alaska, convicted sex offenders are required to submit to periodic polygraph examinations. Those convicted of an alcohol-related offense, on the other hand, may be required to refrain from consumption of any alcoholic beverages.
When one or more of the conditions of parole are violated, some action is usually taken to give consequences to the parolee. In addition to consequences for the parole violation, it is important to note that a parolee may be charged in a separate criminal proceeding for any criminal offense even where the parolee is charged with violation of parole for the same conduct.
Until the 1970's, a parole officer who was in charge of the parolee was able to use his discretion to decide what happened after a parole violation. For instance, he might decide that the parolee deserved a warning or he might decide that the parolee needed to go back to jail. In a 1972 Supreme Court case, however, the rules changed. In the case, called Morrissey v. Brewer, the Supreme court decided that it was unconstitutional to allow a parole officer to simply send someone back to jail, or, in legal terms, to revoke his administrative relief status.
Under the rules that the court made in Morrissey, before a parolee can be sent back to jail or subject to other consequences of his parole violation, he has the right to "due process" of the law. This means he has a right to a hearing, a right to hear the evidence presented against him, and a right to defend himself and try to convince the parole board either that he didn't actually commit a violation or that the violation wasn't so serious that he should be returned to prison.
This means that, under the current law, in order to provide the parolee with due process the consequences of a parole violation are determined at a parole violation hearing.
The Preliminary Hearing
The specific manner in which a parole violation hearing proceeds differs from state to state, although there are some commonalities.
Typically, when a person is suspected of a parole violation, a warrant is issued for his arrest if he is not already in custody. A preliminary hearing is then conducted. At this hearing, an officer or officers from the parole board who aren't associated with the parolee's case will listen to evidence regarding whether a parole violation actually occurred.
If the parole board determines that there is sufficient reason to believe that a violation occured, another hearing called a revocation hearing is scheduled to determine the next step. The parolee may in some cases be held under arrest pending this final hearing. The parole board will decide at the preliminary hearing whether there is a good reason to keep the parolee under arrest until the final decision is made.
In certain cases, however, a preliminary hearing isn't necessary and a parolee may be arrested and held until a revocation hearing takes place. In order for a parolee to be arrested and held until a revocation hearing, typically a judge must issue a temporary revocation order. This can happen, for example, when a parolee has left the state without permission or without reporting where he was going to his parole officer ahead of time.
The Parole Revocation Hearing
The revocation hearing is the legal process at which the fate of a parolee who violated parole is determined. Typically, parole boards have several options at a revocation hearing. Revocation of parole is one option, but it is also possible that a board may take other actions such as transferring the parolee to a substance abuse treatment center or allowing him to remain on parole under the same or modified conditions.
Whether a parole board will revoke parole or take some other administrative action typically depends on the nature and severity of the parole violation, the length of time remaining on parole and the offender's behavior outside of the violation.
Defending Against an Alleged Parole Violation
When a parolee is accused of a parole violation, he can present evidence to try to show no such violation occurred. He does not necessarily have to absolutely prove that he did not violate his parole; he simply has to show that it wasn't demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that he did violate it. Whenever possible, showing that no violation was proven is the parolee's best course of action, since then he can walk away with no consequences at all.
A parolee also has the option of trying to justify or defend a violation that did occur. For instance, he could try to prove that his violation of parole was necessary or accidental. When he raises a defense of justification, the parole board may choose to take no administrative action against him or to take a lesser action than sending him to jail.
In any event, it is best to consult with a lawyer when accused of a parole violation in order to determine how to defend against the violation and what the best course of action is to avoid going back to jail.