Probation Sentences and Their Conditions in Florida
Probation is a court-ordered supervisory condition for persons convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony. A court will impose probation either in lieu of a jail sentence or after a person has served a portion of their time in jail or prison. Depending on the type of probation, a defendant may or may not have to report to a probation or parole officer or a community supervisory officer on a regular or in-person basis.
Florida considers probation as a means of rehabilitation but also as a way to protect the community by imposing certain restrictions on the individual’s freedoms. It affords the defendant an opportunity to find work, go to school, to receive counseling if necessary and to reintegrate into the community if the defendant has spent some time in jail or prison. The length of probation can be a few years to over 10 years in length.
Probation in Florida has standard conditions that every probationer has to follow. In some cases and depending on the crime and the status of the victim, the court may impose special conditions as well.
Standard Probation Conditions
When a court orders probation, a list of standard conditions will be provided that must be followed or you are subject to arrest for a violation and possible incarceration. These include:
- Submitting a monthly report to your probation officer (PO) or other court officer
- Paying a monthly fee of $50 plus any county court surcharge
- Paying a fee of $1 per each month of probation up to $60 within the first 90 days of your probationary period
- Obtaining consent of your probation officer if you wish to change residences or employment or travel out-of-state
- No ownership or possession of firearms unless your PO consents
- Obey all laws
- Avoid arrest
- Avoid associating with any person engaged in criminal activity (taking or selling of illegal drugs)
- No drinking to excess or possession of any drugs unless prescribed
- Stay employed or in school and support any dependents to the best of your ability
- Advise your employer of your probationary or community control status
- Answer fully and truthfully all questions posed by your PO and allow home visits
- Submit to urinalysis, breath or blood test at any time by your PO or treatment center; costs to be borne by you
- If you are a sex offender, then you have to provide a DNA sample to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement within 30 days of your probationary period
- If you are on community control, you have to report several times per week, or even daily if unemployed unless otherwise directed.
- When not working, you must remain confined to your residence or other facility.
Examples of Special Conditions
Along with these standard conditions, the court may impose certain special conditions including attending an HIV/AIDS awareness program of between 2 and 4 hours if available in the offender’s county.
Other special conditions may include:
- Substance abuse counseling
- Anger management classes
- Life skills classes
- Restitution to a victim or shelter
- No contact with certain persons
- Community service obligations
These can impose certain hardships on you as can the standard conditions. Many offenders do find certain conditions too restrictive or may not fully understand what they mean or how to comply with them.
What is a Probation Violation?
If you fail to comply with any condition of probation, you can be violated. The standard in proving a violation is the civil one of proof by a preponderance of the evidence or that it is more likely than not that you violated a condition. Your violation must also have been willful and substantial and proved by direct and credible evidence. Hearsay evidence by itself is admissible, unlike in a civil or criminal trial, but is not sufficient to meet the burden of proof unless it is combined with admissible evidence.
As the offender, you may also be compelled to testify regarding the violation but you retain your right to not incriminate yourself pertaining to the commission of a separate criminal offense.
Examples of violations include:
- Failure to appear at community service job
- Failure to maintain employment
- Failure to report to your PO or community control officer
- Traveling out of state without permission
- Not looking diligently for work
- Getting arrested
- Associating with someone involved in a crime or unlawful activities
- Failing a drug test
- Contacting a person whom you are prohibited from contacting
- Failure to complete a drug or other court program
- Commission of a crime
Even if you do violate any one of these conditions, the state must prove that it was willful, or deliberate, and substantial. For example, you may have unwittingly and unintentionally come into contact with a prohibited person. Also, your failure to maintain work or to appear at your community service obligation may have been due to illness or some other event. Further, getting arrested is not necessarily a violation though you could be tried and acquitted and still be violated by your PO since the standard of proof to find a violation is not the stricter criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. As indicated herein, the prosecution needs more than hearsay evidence to show a willful and substantial violation.
Other valid excuses include loss of employment or otherwise lacking the ability to pay restitution, fines or other costs and that you did not willfully refuse to pay.
Most probation violations are based on positive drug tests, but the prosecution needs to prove that the technical requirements of the drug test were followed. Field tests alone to detect the presence of drugs may be insufficient unless the officer is certified and provides enough foundational testimony to meet the standard of proof.
If you are found in violation, the court may impose the sentence that was stayed but not imposed at the time you were sentenced. For instance, if you were sentenced to 2 years and served 6 months, then you could be sentenced to 18 months or any portion of that original sentence not yet served.
Reduction of Probationary Period
You can reduce or modify your probation by petitioning the court or by discussing it with your PO or community control officer. Many offenders find it difficult to pay court costs and a court may agree to waive them. You can also do community service in lieu of paying certain costs or fines.
You can also petition the court to terminate your probation once you have either completed all conditions such as completion of a counseling program, payment of fines and restitution and community service; or in other words, have completed all special conditions. You may also file a petition for early termination of probation if you have served at least half of your probation term.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
Probation is a contractual arrangement with the court and your PO or community control officer that can be easily violated unless you are fully aware of your conditions and obligations. Consult with a criminal defense attorney who can discuss these conditions with you and what constitutes a violation. Knowing your limitations and that modifications and early termination is possible can ease the experience and make these conditions more tolerable. If a violation occurs, your attorney can present evidence that may indicate the violation was inadvertent and not willful or substantial.