Undoubtedly, nobody wants to be sent to jail. As everyone knows, even those who are convicted of a criminal offense do not automatically go to jail for months or even years. Oftentimes, people who do not have a criminal record or whose crimes were not very serious may avoid jail time if they satisfy certain criteria for a set period of time. This is known as probation.
It is important to realize that those charged with felony-level crimes in certain counties in Florida are managed by the State Department of Corrections (DOC). Misdemeanor-level offenses are handled by their specific counties.
Probation is not always simple for some individuals to follow. The offender is free, able to go to work, provide for his or her family, and many times may be required to pay restitution to the victims of their criminal offenses. However, if they fail to follow their probation's standard and/or special conditions, the offender can be arrested and charged with Violation of Probation (VOP).
In Florida, once a person faces VOP charges, he or she can be sent to jail and held without bond until such time he or she appears before the presiding judge. Under a normal set of circumstances, a person who is placed under arrest has a right to post a reasonable bond. However, this does not apply in VOP cases. Specifically, Florida law dictates that there is no right to a reasonable bond in a VOP case since VOP is defined as a "mere" sentencing proceeding arising out of the original criminal charge.
Let's say, in the hypothetical, that a person is placed under arrest for the felony possession of marijuana. Accordingly, this individual may be put on probation for two years. The term of his or her probation would likely look like the following:
- The requirement to pay monetary fines, court costs, and supervision costs;
- The requirement to report to the probation department on a monthly basis, typically the 5th of each month. This type of reporting may or may not be in person with his or her probation officer (PO);
- The submission to random drug and/or alcohol screening at his or her sole expense;
- Refraining from using controlled substances, alcohol, or unprescribed prescription drugs. If he or she is prescribed a certain medication, this must be reported to his or her PO;
- Avoiding the association with individuals or being in places that are associated with criminal activities;
- The inability to possess a firearm during the term of his or her probation; and
- The requirement to report to his or her PO regarding any contact with police, including if he or she is in a car with a driver who got pulled over.
It is important to realize that if a person does not comply with any of the above conditions, he or she can be re-arrested and face other severe repercussions. Depending upon the presiding judge, the offender may face jail or prison time. Keep in mind that it does not matter how long a person has been on probation. If they are in their 22nd month of a two-year probation period and they violate the terms thereof, they could be sent to jail or prison for the term of incarceration that would have applied had they been sentenced for their original charge. A person could even be sent to jail or prison for a longer period of time than what was associated with their original charge.
Common Misconceptions about Probation in the State of Florida
Unlike other states, Florida does not offer credit for the time a person spends on probation. Moreover, the jail or prison term is not limited to the period of time that a person has left on his or her probation term. This is a common misconception. Notwithstanding, with the assistance of an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer, some offenders may be able to convince the presiding judge to reinstate their probation term if they have pursued all measures possible to mitigate their VOP.
Avoiding a VOP or Other Probation Violations in Florida
Probation costs a lot of money. In addition to the monthly fee (in some counties, it is $55), breathalyzer tests for alcohol cost about $15 each, and urine testing for drugs is about $25 each. If a person's probation requires electronic monitoring, this can cost about $105 per week, depending upon the county where the individual resides. As noted above, there are also costs of supervision and court costs.
If a person is unable to pay their court costs or their cost of supervision, they should indicate this to their PO. The PO may be able to request that the court either reduce the supervision costs or even ask the court to waive this expense. A skilled Florida criminal defense attorney can request this at the time of sentencing.
It is important to understand that the presiding judge may impose a lien for the court costs or monetary fines if a person cannot afford these expenses. If the judge orders a lien, the probationer will have his or her driver's license privileges suspended if he or she does not set up a payment plan within a set period of time after sentencing. In order to be eligible for a lien, the probationer must diligently be seeking employment, be going to school, or have a job.
As a rule, in Florida, a person is not sent to jail for being unable to satisfy his or her financial requirements of probation, as the standard for a VOP is that it must be "substantial and willful." See the Florida Supreme Court case of State v. Carter, 835 So.2d 259 (Fla.2002) for the definition of "substantial and willful."
A person subject to probation should not be present at places where controlled substances are sold or associated with convicted felons.
Moreover, a person on probation must check in with their PO and complete a questionnaire, one of the questions of which asks whether they have had any contact with a law enforcement officer. This may make him or her afraid to report this for fear that they will be deemed as automatically violating their terms of probation. Notwithstanding, if a person does not disclose to their PO that they had contact with police, this may constitute a VOP. Lying to a PO is almost as serious as being arrested for committing a new crime.
It is important to realize that a person will not be deemed in violation of his or her probation by reporting a civil infraction or a car accident. However, if he or she is issued a notice to appear on a criminal misdemeanor (such as for the simple possession of marijuana) or gets a criminal traffic citation, a VOP warrant will likely be pursued against them.
If a probationer fails an alcohol or drug test, this almost invariably will cause him or her to be sent to jail without being given a bond.
There are certain occasions where a person has violated their probation in a technical sense but their PO will arrange a meeting with the presiding judge where he or she will be instructed that they need to "straighten up" or else it will constitute a VOP. Individuals who find themselves in this situation should speak with one of our probation attorneys as soon as possible.
Musca Law Fights Hard to Achieve the Most Favorable Results Possible
Probation violations are often committed unbeknownst to the violator, but that does not mean that the court considers all probation violations as small, inconsequential infractions. In order to protect your rights and potentially your freedom, you should retain the services of a skilled Florida probation violation attorney who can analyze the details of your probation and develop a solid strategy against VOP charges. At Musca Law, our successful track record and more than 150 years of combined legal experience can give you the edge you need to successfully avoid unjust consequences.
Get your case started by calling us at (888) 484-5057 today!