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Probation Violations and Detainers in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s laws regarding detainers allow for unusually harsh consequences for relatively innocuous violations of the terms and conditions of one’s probation or parole. A detainer is an order of incarceration, issued by a court against an individual who has violated a condition of his probation or parole, including receiving a new criminal charge.

In such a situation, a probation or parole officer prepares a request to a judge to issue an order requiring that the probation violator to be held in jail until they can appear before a judge. Once the detainer is issued and the individual is detained, he will appear at a hearing, called a Gagnon I hearing, before a judge, to determine whether there is probable cause to demonstrate that the violation occurred and to serve notice of the charges to the individual. This is also known as a “detainer hearing,” in which the court decides whether to keep the defendant in custody until a second hearing is held, called a “probation violation” hearing, or “Gagnon II” hearing. In legal parlance, the court is deciding whether to “lodge a detainer.” At this hearing, the court decides what punishment to impose as a result of the violation, such as revocation of probation or parole, and the imposition of a new sentence by the original sentencing judge. This could include the extension of the probation period, the imposition of more restrictive probation, such as house arrest, or even incarceration.

At the Gagnon I hearing, the court may release the defendant by “lifting” the detainer, based on the nature of the violation. If the offense is for violating a condition of probation, such as, for instance, failing to pay court fines; failing a urinalysis test; failing to check in with one’s probation officer, or failure to complete community-service hours, it would be considered a “technical” violation. In these instances, the court is more likely to lift the detainer and release the individual. If the violation is based on the defendant being charged with a new criminal offense, the violation is called a “direct violation,” which may result in the detainer remaining in place until the individual’s next criminal proceeding.

An individual who is being incarcerated under a detainer, may seek relief by retaining a lawyer to file a formal motion with the court, known as a “Motion to Lift Detainer,” in which the attorney requests that the offender be released until their final Gagnon II hearing. Alternatively, the motion may include a request for release to an alternative housing facility or for house arrest.

If you or a loved one is facing a probation detainer, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Tanner Law Offices. Our team of skilled professionals is prepared to defend you through this challenging time and ensure your rights are fully protected. Please contact our office at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.