Criminal courts in Maryland frequently impose terms of probation to defendants upon findings of guilt. Courts may impose probation upon a conviction, upon an entry of probation before judgment or both (especially in cases involving more than one violation.)
When the court learns of a possible violation of probation (“VOP”), it will usually hold a hearing at which it may consider the revocation of probation and the imposition of a more severe sentence. In many cases where the court has granted probation before judgment, the court may revoke probation before judgment and impose any sentence not prohibited by statute or applicable constitutional provisions. Upon a probation violation in a case where the defendant received a suspended sentence or a “split sentence” (imprisonment both imposed and suspended for different periods), the court may also impose any term of imprisonment which it had previously suspended, or some fraction thereof.
Violations of probation are serious matters. The court may punish a defendant very sharply after even relatively minor violations of probation, such as missing one appointment with a probation agent or showing up 5 minutes late to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel which a drunk driving defendant has been ordered to attend. One of the major rules/conditions of probation in Maryland is the catch-all condition in “Rule 4″ – OBEY ALL LAWS. A guilty finding for any violation of the law, aside from minor traffic violations when the defendant is on probation for a previous jailable traffic or criminal charge, may result in a VOP entry and a hearing.
Once the court has become aware of a potential VOP (usually but not always from the defendant’s probation agent), it schedules a hearing at which witnesses for the State (including primarily the probation agent) may attempt to prove that a violation occurred. The standard of proof in a VOP is “preponderance of the evidence”, i.e. more likely than not – NOT proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is very important to hire experienced counsel for violation of probation hearings; the stakes are high and working with the agent before the hearing can be critical to an improved outcome. This law office handles such proceedings and can offer in some instances a free initial consultation.