Understanding the Consequences of Probation Violation in Florida
If you are one of the nearly 150,000 Floridians on probation, you are probably thankful that you are not one of the 80,000 or so inmates serving time in the state’s correctional institutions. Nevertheless, you are still under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections and subject to imprisonment and/or other penalties if you violate any terms and conditions of your probation. These terms and conditions tend to be exceptionally strict, which means that a simple mistake or error in judgment might lead to a violation of probation (VOP) and subsequent arrest.
The criminal defense lawyers at Tallahassee-based Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law understand how traumatic an arrest for VOP can be. With a low burden of proof for conviction, your continued freedom is solely in the hands of a judge. And this judge now has the legal right to sentence you to the maximum penalty proscribed for the offense you were originally charged.
If you’ve been arrested for VOP, you should seek out the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can assess your case to devise a strategy to secure the most favorable outcome possible. Read on to learn more about probation and how the state addresses VOPs.
Understanding Probation in Florida
Probation is a term of court-ordered supervision that a judge can impose in lieu of a prison or jail term on those convicted of misdemeanor or felony offenses. Probation terms are usually dictated by the seriousness of the offense. Florida statutes set out the standard probation terms and conditions, but several distinct probation categories—such as “drug offender” and “sex offender”—impose additional conditions. Common probation terms and conditions in Florida may include:
- Not engaging in any criminal activity.
- Regularly scheduled reporting to a probation officer.
- Allowance of unscheduled probation officer visits to your home, workplace, or school.
- Maintaining employment during your probation term.
- Payment of any court-ordered restitution.
- Remaining within specific court-ordered geographic boundaries and/or securing permission to travel outside of them.
- Random drug and alcohol testing.
- Not associating with any known criminals.
- Avoiding contact with any victims.
- Not possessing firearms.
- Substance abuse counseling.
- Other terms as deemed appropriate for the offense.
In general, probation terms for felony convictions are much harsher and longer than for misdemeanor convictions. Some misdemeanor convictions result in what’s known as administrative probation, which negates regular meetings with a probation officer. As previously noted, a VOP subjects offenders to arrest and the potential imposition of imprisonment and/or other penalties.
What Happens if You Violate Probation?
Most VOPs are reported to the court by probation officers or arise because of a new arrest. A VOP is reported via an affidavit of violation to the court, which will typically revoke the probation by issuing an arrest warrant for the offender. The offender will almost always be held in a County Jail without the ability to Bond out while the VOP case is pending. Following arraignment on the VOP charge, a hearing is held before a judge.
While not technically a trial, a judge reviews the evidence supporting the VOP allegations and allows the defendant to offer a defense. The judge does not have to use the standard “beyond a reasonable” doubt threshold to determine guilt, but merely that there is enough evidence to support the allegations. Additionally, VOP hearings allow hearsay to be admitted as evidence, which gives verbal evidence provided by probation officers and police more weight. During the hearing, the judge also assesses the evidence to determine whether the VOP was willful, typically resulting in much harsher penalties for the violation.
Florida law provides VOP hearing judges with three options for deciding cases. The best outcome is that the judge reinstates probation under the existing terms. This occurs when the judge does not accept that the VOP occurred, or that the violation was not willful, and that the offender seems genuinely remorseful for the mistake. A middle-of-the-road outcome involves the judge modifying probation with more restrictive conditions and perhaps extending the term. The worst-case judgment involves revocation of the probation and re-sentencing on the original charges, which could result in a prison term.
Turn to a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your VOP Defense
Given the severe consequences and potential loss of freedom that a VOP entails, you should always seek out the services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer if you have been accused of violating your probation. An experienced defense lawyer can assess the alleged violation(s) to help strategize the best means of ensuring that you remain under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections, rather than an inmate in one of the state’s 143 correctional facilities. To learn more about how Cowhey + Ward can help strategize an effective defense for your VOP hearing, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.