How Florida Courts Treat Probation Violations
Offenders find probation an appreciated alternative to prison, and Florida finds placing persons on probation keeps jails from overcrowding. It’s usually a win-win for both parties; however, when probationers violate the strict terms of their release, another court battle ensues to decide whether terms of probation were violated, or if violating the offender was unjustified.
How Florida courts handle violations of probation (VOP) depends on level of supervision, the underlying charge, the likelihood persons will reoffend, and numerous factors many defendants may never know.
Smaller Incidents that Initiate VOPs
Unless an abusive probation officer is browbeating an offender into committing additional crimes, many violations occur from simple misunderstandings. Some common ‘hiccups’ may include:
- Accidentally scheduling a probationer to appear on a holiday;
- Checking in late due to hold-up in the courthouse;
- Inaccurate urinalysis performed in-office;
- Probationer being unaware of terms of their release;
The littlest incident can trigger violations. While violating persons for missteps is well within an officer’s rights, courts tend to frown on smaller violations that needlessly congest court calendars. An attorney may make several phone calls, counsel their client, and the violation could go away.
Larger Incidents that Initiate VOPs
In some cases, probation officers’ hands are tied when offenders blatantly ignore probation terms and either allegedly commit additional offenses, or simply never appear for scheduled check-ins. Examples of larger incidents that usher probationers back into court include:
- Committing additional crimes;
- Failing to abide by specific terms of their release, like surrendering firearms;
- Testing positive for banned substances during routine drug screening;
- Leaving Florida without an officer’s permission;
Serious offenses that simultaneously violate probation and initiate new charges may result in prison sentences far longer than an offender initially faced.
Defenses to Probation Violations
Violating probationers is simple. Sometimes, proving the violation had validity isn’t.
To compel Florida courts to take action against an offender who violated terms of probation, evidence is necessary. Depending on what rules were allegedly broken, producing such proof may be much harder than prosecution anticipated.
Willful violations, and those that were ‘forced’, have two entirely separate defenses altogether. For Florida to prove probationers willfully violated their terms, an action such as being caught with drugs or failing to appear must be proven beyond doubt. Hearsay, assumptions or unsubstantiated information are often inadmissible in probation violation hearings.
Given this information, possible defenses to VOPs include:
- The probationer changed their address but failed to notify the court in time;
- Inability to secure gainful employment has prevented fee payments;
- VOP was issued beyond sentence (If 15 days were served, and the statutory maximum is 365 days, warrant must be signed on the 350th day);
- A family emergency prevented timely check-in.
Other meritorious defenses can be raised, and are subject to what your attorney finds is applicable to your situation.
Florida is Tough on Probationers
Violating terms of court-ordered probation have serious consequences. Those arrested will probably be held without bond until their initial hearing, and beyond. Courts have broad powers to extend probation, too, if deemed appropriate.
If you’ve been notified a VOP will be issued, waste no time in hiring an attorney as that may be your saving grace.