Revoking Probation and Parole

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Understanding the processes of revoking parole and probation is critical in the field of criminal justice. Revocation signifies the cancellation of these privileges due to a violation of terms. As we proceed, we’ll delve into the legal intricacies surrounding this topic.

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Understanding the Revocation Process

When a parolee or probationer violates their conditions, the revocation process initiates. A parole or probation officer usually reports the violation. The offender then typically faces a hearing, often in front of a judge or a parole board. The hearing determines whether a violation occurred and, if so, what the consequence will be.

Grounds for Revocation

Revoking parole or probation hinges on the occurrence of certain violations. These violations come in two distinct types: technical and substantive. Each kind carries its own weight in the revocation process and is viewed differently in the eyes of the law.

Technical violations, the first type, involve infringements of the specific terms or conditions set for the probationer or parolee. For example, one condition might be that the person must meet with their parole officer at set intervals. If they miss an appointment without a valid reason, they have committed a technical violation. Similarly, failing a drug test, not maintaining employment, or failing to notify their officer of a change in address can also be seen as technical violations. These incidents might seem minor compared to criminal acts, but they are still taken seriously. They signify a breach of the contract between the offender and the criminal justice system, which can be grounds for revocation.

On the other hand, substantive violations carry more weight. These involve the commission of a new crime while on probation or parole. A new crime, whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony, is seen as a significant violation of the terms of parole or probation. It indicates not only the failure to comply with the conditions set but also a disregard for law and order.

Substantive violations often lead to more severe consequences than technical violations. Given the seriousness of committing a new crime, it is common for the response to be stringent. This may involve immediate arrest and the possibility of serving time for both the original and the new offense.

In the eyes of the law, both technical and substantive violations disrupt the trust that’s placed in the offender through the granting of parole or probation. Therefore, they may lead to the revocation process. The severity of the consequences largely depends on the nature of the violation and the offender’s overall behavior during their time on parole or probation.

Constitutional Rights During Revocation Proceedings

During revocation proceedings, individuals retain specific constitutional rights. In the landmark case of Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973), the Supreme Court affirmed that probationers and parolees have the right to receive written notice of claimed violations, disclosure of the evidence, and the opportunity to be heard and to present witnesses. They also have the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, unless the hearing body specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation.

The landmark case of Morrissey v. Brewer (1972) significantly shaped the legal landscape concerning parole revocation. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court asserted that before parole can be revoked, a parolee is entitled to two distinct hearings – a preliminary and a final one. The preliminary hearing determines whether there is probable cause or reasonable grounds to believe that the parolee has committed a violation warranting revocation. This hearing often occurs shortly after the alleged violation, and close to where the violation took place. Its purpose is to prevent any unwarranted loss of liberty due to baseless allegations or errors.

The second, or final hearing, follows if probable cause is found in the preliminary hearing. It offers a more comprehensive examination of the violation. During this hearing, the parolee can contest the violation, present their own evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. It’s at this final hearing that the decision is made whether to revoke parole.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Morrissey v. Brewer underscores the principle of due process, affirming that even individuals who have violated the law have fundamental rights that must be protected. This case highlighted the criminal justice system’s responsibility to balance public safety against the rights of the individual, an element that remains central to the process of parole revocation.

Consequences of Parole and Probation Revocation

When parole or probation is revoked, the consequences can vary. The individual might face stricter conditions, or they might have to serve the remainder of their sentence in prison. The specific outcome usually depends on the nature and severity of the violation.


In this section, we have examined the legal processes surrounding the revocation of parole and probation. We have touched on the reasons for revocation, the rights of individuals during revocation proceedings, and the potential consequences of revocation. This knowledge is critical for anyone navigating or studying the criminal justice system, as it highlights the importance of adherence to conditions of parole and probation and the severe consequences that may ensue if these are violated.

Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/27/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License



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