In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act created the first mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for specific violations of federal law. In addition, the act abolished the parole system and instituted probation and supervised release to serve in its place.

Probation vs. Supervised Release

Probation is a supervision process that replaces all or a portion of a prison sentence. Supervised release is imposed in addition to the prison sentence and is intended as a time of rehabilitation and adjustment to society. Both probation and supervised release participants are under the jurisdiction of the US Probation and Pretrial Services System. There are several requirements in common with both groups, such as drug testing, though other requirements are optional depending on the crime committed and the needs of the person who is being released.

Violations of Probation and Supervised Release

There are statutory classifications of violations of probation or supervised release which are:

  • 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 U.S.C.§ 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.

2012 Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual, Chapter 7, Page 481.

A Grade A and B violation will result in a prison term regardless of whether a person is on probation or supervised release. This is significant to people on supervised release as they have already served their full sentence and now face another one. If the violation is a Grade C, there is no incarceration, though additional conditions may be added to the supervised release.

The Best Defense

The classification of the offense determines if a prison sentence will be imposed and the length of that sentence. It is important for a defendant to hire a criminal defense attorney who understands both the state and federal legal systems. The goal is to have the violation classified at the lowest possible level.

If a person is charged on the state level with a Grade B violation, an experienced criminal defense attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges from a B to a C level offense. For example, a person may be charged with burglary after walking onto an empty lot and picking up a piece of scrap metal to sell. The charge of burglary is a Grade B Violation. However, a smart attorney can attempt to have the charge reduced to simple trespass, which is a misdemeanor and therefore a Grade C Violation. If successful, the violator will avoid a new prison term, although additional conditions may be added to his or her supervised release.

Hiring a defense attorney with experience in both the federal and state court systems can make the difference between a prison sentence and continued supervised release. Those certified as a federal criminal defense attorney are the best choice, especially given the potential consequences.