There are multiple ways that your probation officer can find out about new charges (as well as arrests).
Let’s talk through them, and what is most likely to happen.
How Do Probation Officers Find Out About New Charges? (EXPLAINED)
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#1 You Tell Your Probation Officer About New Charges Voluntarily and Spontaneously
If you are on probation, you are being supervised by either the court or a separate probation officer.
Per the terms of your probation, you are ordered to “violate no laws.”
You are also probably required by the judgment to report any new charges to your supervisor, be it a judge or a separate supervisor, regardless of whether or not the case has been resolved.
While reporting the new charges to your probation officer probably won’t save you from whatever hot water you’ll be in with your supervisor, it is likely to help in some way.
Probation officers don’t have to move to terminate your probation, and they don’t have to seek sanctions against you for violating your probation.
“New charges” does not mean a conviction.
Probation usually requires that defendants “violate no laws.”
New charges creates a presumption that laws have been violated, but until you are convicted (by admission of guilt or by verdict), your probation cannot be terminated simply because you were charged (unless your probation says so).
But if you hide the pending case from your supervisor, and he/she finds out about it from some other source, he might find reasons to come down on you for something or everything, and will be less likely to trust you in the future.
You might escape a probation violation if you are found not guilty on the new charges (or they get dismissed).
But failing to report the case (even if you weren’t found guilty) could still result in a probation violation (PV).
#2 You Tell Your Probation Officer If He Asks
Your probation officer will talk to you on the phone regularly, or have you come down to her office.
During those meetings, she may ask you if you have anything pertinent to your probation that she needs to know about.
It is one thing to be silent and just not say anything if she doesn’t ask about the new case.
It is quite another thing to lie to the probation officer and say “no, there’s nothing you need to know about.”
Lying to your probation officer is a quick way to a probation violation or other sanction (which could include some jail time).
#3 Technology Notifies Them
If you are on probation in a specific city or state, and you get arrested/charged in the same court/jurisdiction as previous, it is likely that the probation officer will get an alert letting him know about it.
This could happen even if you were arrested in a state far away.
In the old days, it was much harder to disseminate information between agencies, or even within the same agency.
Now, some of the notifications come out automatically, either through established tech platforms or even over email.
It is expected that these databases will become more central and connected over time, so the passing of information between agencies will be even easier and quicker.
#4 Regular Searches
Databases are easy to search when you have a defendant’s full name and date of birth (and social security number).
Before a probation officer does anything significant on your behalf (like recommending that your probation be terminated, that you be given access to special programs, or updating the court), they’ll likely do a quick search to make sure nothing is pending.
PO’s want to be sure that when they tell the court “you are good to go,” and they aren’t going to take your word for it.
#5 People Talk To Each Other
Law enforcement communities are pretty small.
You might not realize this, but police officers (and prosecutors) talk to each other a lot about their cases.
They also often remember the names and cases of the people they’ve had to prosecute in the past.
They know and remember what happened to you and your case.
They know you got probation, when maybe you should have gone to jail.
If an officer arrests you, and he knows about you from a colleagues cases (and that you are on probation), he is more than happy to tell on you to the original investigating officer or directly to your probation officer.
And like before–its easier to do now than it ever way (text messages, phone calls, emails, you name it).
Best Course Of Action
In the end, the best thing to do when you’ve got new charges against you (especially if you are on probation) before you do anything else is to get ahold of your criminal defense attorney.
The attorney can look at the terms of your probation, and guide you to the best course of action to avoid getting into trouble with your probation officer.
Does it make it a better justice system when all the judges are former prosecutors? That’s another question entirely.
Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?
Browse our free legal library guides for more information.
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