Answer: Sure, a probation officer can find out if the defendant they are supervising has left the state.
However, he might not.
Let us explain.
Can My Probation Officer Find Out If I Left The State? (Explained)
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Terms of Probation
The terms of a defendant’s probation are ordered by the court.
If the defendant fails to follow the terms of probation, the defendant could be subject to sanctions, or even the revocation of his probation (meaning jail).
The probation officer has the job of making sure that the defendant follows the probation terms, and reporting him to the court for punishment if he doesn’t.
How The Probation Officer Monitors The Defendant
There are a few primary ways a probation officer monitors the defendant.
First, the probation officer uses his eyes.
This means that he looks at the defendant and he looks at things in the defendant’s person, car, and home.
He visits the defendant’s work place, and may stop by public places the defendant likes to hang out.
He makes judgments based upon what he sees, like if the defendant looks to be under the influence of intoxicants, or if the defendant appears to be lying.
Second, the probation officer uses his ears.
He asks the defendant questions, and compares the answers to information he has collected or the defendant’s previous answers.
He also asks questions of the defendant’s friends, family, employer, or other members of the public.
Third, he gathers information through various portals he has access to, such as social media, court records, national databases, etc.
Fourth, members of the public contact him of their own volition to tattle on the defendant.
This might be friends, family, or even members of law enforcement.
Fifth, the probation officer can violate the defendant and subpoena information confirming the violation to a hearing for the judge to review.
Unless the defendant is placed on a program of electronic monitoring (ankle bracelet), the probation officer doesn’t have the ability to track the movement of the defendant throughout the day.
Instead, he is left with the information gathered with his eyes, ears, and his computer.
How The Probation Officer Could Find Out If a Defendant Left The State
The primary way a defendant gets found out for violating his probation (like by traveling without permission) is by the probation officer seeing (or not seeing) what he is supposed to see.
The defendant might not be at home or at school or at work where he is supposed to be.
The probation officer might see the defendant at a later date, and observe information raising suspicions that the defendant traveled (a tan, souvenirs, mileage on a vehicle).
The probation officer might find physical evidence during a search, such as credit card statements, maps, emails).
The second most likely way is the defendant generally incriminates himself.
It is hard to lie to the probation officer when asked directly about a trip, and many defendants simply admit to what they’ve done.
The third most likely way to get found out is getting told on by someone who knew about both the prohibition against travel and the trip.
This can come in the form of well-meaning friends/family who want the defendant to stay on track with probation.
This can also come in the form of malicious ex-spouses or ex-romantic partners, people associated with the victim of the original crime, or even members of the community.
The fourth most likely way is the defendant manages to get himself into trouble while on his trip, either by getting arrested, charges, or otherwise involved in a criminal matter which gets entered into the national databases that the probation officer can access.
Fifth, the probation officer could subpoena information confirming the travel.
While it can be difficult to access without a warrant, most cellular service companies maintain a startling amount of sophisticated data about the locations of individuals cell phones, which could prove that the defendant left the city/state.
A subpoena could provide the probation officer with access to the defendant’s cellular phone itself, where there might be photos of the trip, documents, tickets, or other evidence of travel.
Will The Probation Officer Find Out?
If the defendant decides to travel against the terms of his probation and without the permission of his probation officer, it is possible that he could manage the trip without the probation officer finding out.
After all, there are no trackers on the defendant himself, and monitoring the whereabouts of a particular defendant every second of the day is generally beyond the time and available technology for the average probation officer.
For the most part, there’s no one on the road checking to see who is driving in and out of a state.
That being said, it is generally not recommended.
There is a lot that the defendant cannot control, such as other people (well-meaning or not).
These folks might not even mean to tattle; the information could come in the form of a photo of the defendant posted to a friend’s Facebook page.
Evidence of the trip could come up months later after the defendant’s return, and could still result in a probation violation/sanctions.
A defendant who violates the terms of his probation risks arrest, sanctions, as well as the revocation of his probation.
What To Do Instead?
If a defendant knows about a particular trip well in advance, he could try and go over the head of the probation officer to the judge.
The judge has the power to modify the probation conditions to allow an important trip, though it would have to be very compelling to succeed over the vehement objections of the supervisor.
A local attorney who specializes in post-judgment criminal matters could answer a defendant’s questions and help him understand whether such a option has the potential to succeed.
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