Robin Fuson
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How Probation Works In Florida

Criminal Defense

Fines and jail terms are only two of the tools that judges in Florida may use when they impose a sentence on a convicted criminal offender in this state. However, many convicted offenders in Florida are placed not behind bars, but instead back in their communities, to serve probation. If you are charged with a crime in the Tampa Bay area, you should understand precisely what penalties you may face. Let an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney advise you.

What happens in the state of Florida if you are convicted of a crime and you are sentenced to probation? In the Florida system, a term of probation emphasizes a convicted offender’s individual responsibility and accountability while offering a practical alternative to the state prison or the county jail. Florida probationers must meet with a probation officer routinely, follow that officer’s instructions precisely, obtain permission for travel beyond the jurisdiction, and inform the officer about any change of address or change of employment.

Generally speaking, those who are eligible for probation in Florida are those who are convicted of a nonviolent crime or a minor crime and who do not additionally have an extensive criminal background. In 2015, Florida probation officers supervised over 139,000 probationers. Serving time in jail or in prison is not a requirement to be eligible for probation in this state. There are two ways probation can be violated in Florida: new violations of the law and technical violations.

WHAT ARE THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF PROBATION IN FLORIDA?

The conditions and terms of probation in Florida are different for every probationer, but those conditions and terms usually include the avoidance of drugs and alcohol, an agreement to submit to random drug and alcohol testing, getting and keeping a job, the avoidance of criminal acquaintances, and regular meetings with a supervising probation officer. The most common technical violations of probation concern late fee payments or a failure to meet with the probation officer.

By staying aware of deadlines and by staying in communication with the probation officer, a probationer can avoid most violations of probation. Any failure to satisfy the conditions and terms of probation may lead to the revocation of probation followed by a jail or prison term for the duration of the offender’s sentence. In addition to following the terms outlined in the probation agreement, a probationer will need to pay any court fees, any fines that are related to the charges, and any fines that are related to the supervision of the probation.

In some instances, a probationer in Florida may be confined to house arrest or may be required by a judge to wear an electronic monitoring device as a condition of his or her probation. If alcohol or drugs were involved with the original criminal violation, the terms and conditions of probation may include individual or group counseling and/or treatment for alcohol or drug addiction.

HOW DOES FLORIDA HANDLE VIOLATIONS OF PROBATION?

What happens when a Florida probationer fails a random drug test or otherwise violates a condition or term of probation? He or she can be formally charged with “VOP,” the violation of probation. When a probationer’s probation officer becomes aware of a possible violation, the probation officer will file an Affidavit of Violation with the court to explain the details of the alleged violation.

A judge will then consider the Affidavit of Violation and determine if grounds exist for taking action. If the judge chooses to act, he or she may issue a bench warrant and have the probationer placed in custody. The probationer is then arraigned on the charge and a date for a hearing is scheduled. In Florida VOP cases, if you are the probationer accused of a violation, an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can advocate on your behalf and explain to the judge why you should not be sent or returned to jail or prison.

To convict a probationer of a VOP charge in Florida, the state must prove that:

– The probationer was aware of and understood the conditions of probation.
– The probationer willfully and intentionally acted to violate the conditions of probation.
– The probationer, in fact, did commit the violation of probation.

HOW DO MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY PROBATION DIFFER IN FLORIDA?

Misdemeanor probation in Florida is somewhat different from felony probation. For example, a term of felony probation typically lasts in this state from three to five years, while misdemeanor probation usually runs from one to three years. However, a probationer can ask the court for a reduced sentence after serving about half of the term of probation, and that reduction of the sentence may be approved if the probationer has satisfied all of the terms of probation with no violations.

According to Tampa criminal defense attorney Robin Fuson, “many people take probation lightly. While their job and personal activities are important, they need to understand that screwing up any of those things will not land you in prison. Your first priority, until it’s complete, should be probation. Get it done, get it done right, and there is a chance we can terminate it early.”

Although there are similarities, parole and probation are quite different in Florida. Both parole and probation function as alternatives to incarceration, and both penalties involve a convicted offender living in the community, following a strict set of conditions, and meeting with a probation or parole officer routinely. Parole, however, is offered only to particular Florida prison inmates and only after they have served a substantial portion of their sentences. Probation and parole in Florida are distinct criminal penalties with a number of practical differences.

Anyone who is charged with a crime in this state is considered innocent under the law unless and until guilt can be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” From a defendant’s perspective, probation is preferable to prison, but if you are accused of a crime and you are innocent, obtain legal counsel, contest the charge, and ask a jury of your peers to find you not guilty. It’s your right. An experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can work to have the charge against you reduced or entirely dismissed, and if necessary, will argue your case before a jury.

Every case is different, of course, so if you are charged with a crime in Florida, you will need a defense attorney’s personalized advice. However, if you are charged with a crime and the evidence against you is abundant and persuasive – and a conviction is certain – you will need an experienced defense lawyer to ask the judge for reduced sentencing, alternative sentencing, or probation. And if you are sentenced to probation in Florida, you should use that opportunity to leave criminal behavior behind and to move forward with your life – positively and constructively.

Robin Fuson
By Robin Fuson