In June 2021, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a new probation bill into law. Before the bill was signed, Virginia was one of just seven states that did not limit the length of probation sentences.
Many people ended up back in prison because of technical probation violations rather than crimes. For example, a person could be sent back to prison for missing a meeting with a probation officer or forgetting to report a job change years after they served a prison sentence for committing a crime. Sending people to prison for these types of violations, rather than for committing crimes, results in both unfair incarcerations and unnecessary expenses for taxpayers who pay for prison stays.
Now, Virginia Limits Probation Sentences
The 2021 Virginia probation law limits adult probation sentences to:
- One year for misdemeanors
- Five years for felonies
The length of your probation will be included in your criminal sentence. Additionally, the new law prohibits the Commonwealth from:
- Sending someone back to prison for the first technical violation of probation terms, and in some cases, it also prohibits prison time for second technical violations
- Imposing a prison sentence of more than 14 days for a second technical violation
If a third or subsequent technical violation occurs, a judge may impose the rest of the suspended sentence.
The intent of the law is to provide more people with the opportunity to rebuild their lives rather than serve additional prison time for making a non-criminal mistake.
Technical Probation Violations
To fully understand the new law, you need to know what the Commonwealth means by a technical probation violation. Technical violations are only those violations specifically defined by the state as technical violations.
The definition of technical probation violations is found in Virginia Code § 19.2-306.1. According to the law, technical violations include a probationer’s failure to:
- Report an arrest, including traffic tickets, to their probation officer within three days of the arrest
- Maintain regular employment or notify their probation officer of employment changes
- Report to their probation officer within three days of their release from prison
- Allow the probation officer to visit their home or job site
- Follow probation officer instructions, be truthful, be cooperative, and report to the probation officer as instructed
- Refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages to the extent that it disrupts or interferes with employment or causes disorderly conduct
- Refrain from using, possessing, or distributing controlled substances (drugs) or related drug paraphernalia
- Refrain from using, owning, possessing, or transporting a gun or firearm
- Gain permission to move their residence or remain in Virginia or other designated areas without the permission of their probation officer
- Maintain contact with their probation officer if their location is no longer known to the probation officer
The law recognizes that multiple technical violations may occur from a single incident. When multiple technical violations arise from a single course of conduct or are considered at the same revocation hearing, they are considered single violations, not multiple violations, for probation violation sentencing purposes.
Protect Your Rights If You’re Accused of a Probation Violation
While the law has changed, it remains essential to comply with all of the terms of your probation sentence. Multiple technical infractions could send you back to jail, as could more serious violations such as committing a crime while on probation.
We know that you don’t want to go to prison, and you deserve to be treated fairly throughout the criminal process. From the time you are arrested until your probation sentence ends, our experienced Fairfax criminal defense lawyers are here to help you. We can investigate the incident, defend you in court, negotiate with prosecutors, and help you with any alleged probation violations.
The consequences of a probation violation may be significant, even with the change in the law. If you have any questions about your rights, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or through this website to learn more.