HOW TO GET OFF PROBATION EARLY IN MASSACHUSETTS

There are a number of reasons why a person who is on probation might want to apply for early termination of probation. They may want to move out of state and not go through the difficult and frequently fruitless task of attempting to get another state to accept a transfer. They may have to travel out of state frequently for work or to attend to a chronically sick family member at the last minute and not always have the time to get permission first. If, as a condition of probation, they wear a GPS monitor, it may greatly limit the hours and places they can go within the state while frequently malfunctioning and giving off false alarms at their workplace. There is also the expense of the monthly probation fee and the taking time off of work to report in person to ones probation officer. Or it may just be that, after years of being on probation where they have done everything right to both comply with the terms of their probation and to resume a good law-abiding life of contribution to the community, they may have earned it.

Until fairly recently, it used to be rare for a probationer to get their period of probation terminated early. Judges would frequently deny the request stating that the fact that someone was already doing so well for the time they had been on probation was expected of them and, besides, why end probation early if it is working out so successfully. They might also say that the judge, who originally handed out the sentence and was, therefore, the one possibly most familiar with the case, knew how long they wanted the defendant to be on probation and would have, indeed, sentenced the person to a shorter period of probation if they had seen fit.

However, recently, in the intended interest of public safety, there has been a trend in the opposite direction in favor of presumably giving probationers an incentive to do well and rewarding them for establishing a track record of resuming a good law-abiding life. It is the same idea as when a prisoner gets paroled early.

At this present time in the courts of Massachusetts, early termination of probation is actually being encouraged as a routine action when merited. In fact, as a result of the formation of a number of working groups assembled by Ralph Gants, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a report was issued entitled Criminal Sentencing in the Superior Court: Best Practices for Individualized Evidence-Based Sentencing in March of 2016. It suggested, as a Best Practice, that:

“At the time of sentencing, a judge should inform the defendant/probationer that, after a period of compliance, the court may look favorably upon a request for early termination of probation or lifting of certain conditions as an incentive to successful performance.”

The rationale as expressed in the report is that:

“Studies have also shown that probationers are often more likely to complete their probation successfully when their positive performance is acknowledged or rewarded. Positive reinforcement and the use of incentives can motivate a probationer to succeed, as opposed to probation practices that recognize (and sanction) only failure . . . As is true in life generally, so too in the context of probation: the prospect of a reward for success is sometimes more powerful than the threat of punishment for failure.”

Requirements for Early Termination of Probation

  1. In the time they have been on probation, they should have successfully complied with all conditions, had no violations of probation, and be up to date on payments. In other words, they should have had a good run as a model probationer.
  2. In order to show how successfully they have complied with probation, they should probably not apply for early termination until they have completed, at the very least, half the period of probation. So, if one has, for example, been sentenced to five years of probation, they should, practically speaking, probably not apply for early termination until, at the very soonest, they have already served two and one half years of it.


Also, it would be ideal to get ones probation officer to agree to the request. However, it is generally the policy of most probation offices to either routinely oppose such a request as a standard policy or to stay neutral and leave it up to the judge. If they oppose it, hopefully, a judge will understand that the probation officer is doing so as a matter of their office policy and not because the probationer did not earn it. Otherwise, it is actually still somewhat helpful for a probation officer to tell the judge that he or she takes no position on it either way but that they will affirm that the probationer has been in full compliance with all the rules and conditions of their probation.

The motion for early termination of probation itself should have as much detail as possible explaining not only did the probationer comply successfully with all terms of probation but also the other positive things going on in their life to show they are currently living a life of stability and responsibility. These might include their employment, family ties and whatever contributions they have made to the community, church or non-profit organizations or private acts of kindnesses to those around them even if it means so much as shoveling the snow for free for an elderly neighbor.

If the probationer has engaged in counseling, include a letter from the therapist noting their patient’s active engagement in it with some level of assurance that the indications are they are likely to continue living a responsible law-abiding life. Letters from family and friends can also be included.

Also, key is to give a reason why it would be better and in the interest of justice for the person to now get off of probation.

If the judge denies the request for early termination of probation, all hope is not lost. Some judges have told the applicant that they would like to see them show just a bit of a longer track record on probation before they will feel comfortable about terminating it. Someone who gets turned down for early termination of, let’s say, a five-year probation after completing half of it, could ask the judge if they might reconsider their decision if they come back in another year after they have completed three and a half years.

This kind of positive reinforcement and incentive that goes along with the hope of the possibility of an early termination of probation if the probationer’s conduct has been exemplary can help the probationer to succeed in resuming a good law-abiding life and, therefore, is in the interest of public safety.

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