When you have done something that is against the law, you will face the consequences set by the law. Depending on the type of offense you have committed against the law, you are subject to litigation, and the Court decides how you should be punished for your actions.
Probation can be a word you may have heard before, but you don't quite understand it well. Fret not because we will discuss what probation means and what should and should not be done when you or someone you know is on probation.
There are different scenarios where someone may be placed on probation. For example, a defendant may receive probation in lieu of prison, it may be given if a convict has demonstrated good behavior, or when a prison sentence is suspended.
Oftentimes, someone is placed on probation when they have been convicted of a minor offense and the state does not see the point in spending its limited tax dollars on incarcerating the individual.
A person placed on probation can be free under the court's supervision, providing they exhibit good behavior and follow strict rules established by the court.
What is Probation?
Probation is a form of community supervision. It is an alternative to incarceration which includes a period of formal supervision which must be served while strictly adhering to stringent terms and conditions.
When a criminal defendant is placed on probation, they are released from confinement, but they are still under the court’s supervision. They must remain under the close supervision of a probation officer and they are required to adhere to certain conditions set by the court.
Probation is available in both county and circuit courts and comes in the following varieties:
- Standard - when you need to follow the basic standards of probation and report regularly to your probation officer.
- Administrative - is similar to standard probation with the exception that you do not need to meet with your probation officer.
- Drug offender - specifically for those involved in drug-related cases, drug offender probation includes strict adherence to a substance abuse program and random drug tests.
- Sex offender - must stick to a treatment program and will be under the supervision of a surveillance officer.
- Community Control - is synonymous with "house arrest," and is the most stringent type of probation because you are under constant supervised custody.
Such levels of probation require absolute compliance with the various terms and conditions. The state has zero tolerance for violators, who are penalized for their noncompliance.
Dos When You’re on Probation
The standard conditions of probation are found under Section 984.03 of the Florida Statutes.
Here are some of the things that you should do when you are on probation:
- Do keep in close contact with your criminal defense attorney and notify your attorney immediately of any issues or problems.
- Do come to court each time you are instructed to appear.
- Do keep your probation officer advised of any changes in employment.
- Do stay away from places and persons that could be involved in illegal activities.
- Do keep your vehicle in good repair.
- Do complete all conditions of your probation, including paying fines and fees, paying restitution, attending counselling, completing alcohol/drug addiction programs, community service, etc.
- Do maintain a positive relationship with your probation officer. It can make your time on probation much easier.
- Do use a calendar and other tools to remind you when to be in court, at the probation office, community service, drug tests, and classes on time.
Don’ts When You’re on Probation
Here is a list of what you should not do when you are on probation:
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol, especially if the judge specifically ordered you to avoid consuming alcohol. You need to appear for every drug and alcohol test scheduled by the court or your probation officer.
- Don’t change your residence or leave the state without written permission from the court or your probation officer.
- Don’t miss appointments with your probation officer. If you need to reschedule for work or a doctor’s appointment, contact your probation officer as far in advance as possible to request permission to reschedule the appointment.
- Don’t miss curfew if you are under a curfew as a condition of your probation.
- Don’t tamper with or attempt to remove personal monitoring devices or ignition interlock devices.
- Don’t possess a firearm or any illegal drugs or substances.
- Don’t assume that one act of leniency by your probation officer is permission to violate the terms of your probation. Even if your probation officer is not strict, you must comply with all terms of probation to avoid receiving harsher penalties.
Your probation officer can submit a request to the court to either lower the costs of your supervision or ask the court to waive it. Your attorney can also do this at the time of sentencing. Let Florida crime defense attorney Thomas C. Grajek do this for you.
Types of Probation
There are different types of probations based on the crimes committed.
- State Probation
It is the type of probation that is available for both felony and misdemeanour offenses in all 50 states. Probation is usually used as the sole punishment for first time offenses or crimes that are not very serious. It is also used in conjunction with jail sentences for supervising people who have to pay restitution or for monitoring serious offenders who have strict conditions for their transition from jail to regular life.
- Felony probation is stricter than misdemeanor probation. The state's Department of Corrections will supervise you, and the probation sentence is at least 18 months. The maximum term for a probation sentence may be 5, 10 or 25 years.
- Misdemeanor probation is supervised by the county's probation officer or a contractor for the county. The maximum probation sentence is one year. This type of probation is usually untransferable compared to felony probation. However, there are procedures in place to allow a person to move out of the county or state. The common alternative is called "mail-in probation."Mail-in probation allows a person to report to a probation officer by mail instead of in person. Any change in your address or place of residence must be allowed for and approved by the court.
- Federal Probation
The federal probation is supervised by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System.
Federal Probation Officers are divided into two different systems:
- Pre-Sentence Investigation Units conduct investigations into the background of defendants convicted of federal crimes and submit a sentencing recommendation to the presiding judge.
- Supervision Units supervise individuals sentenced to probation. Supervision Officers also perform duties connected with federal parole.
- Violent Felony Offenders
Supervision for violent felony offenders is more intense. There are other extra conditions that you need to comply with such as:
- reporting to your probation officer more than once a month
- drug testing
- GPS monitoring
- no weapons
- (in sex cases) no pornographic materials such as magazines or DVDs
- restrictions on individuals you may associate with
- registering your whereabouts with the local sheriff's office
Myths about Probation
Unlike some states, Florida does not give credit for the time spent on probation, nor is the jail or prison time limited to the amount of time the person has remaining on his probation. This is a common myth. However, sometimes, with the help of a competent attorney, some defendants may be able to persuade the Judge to reinstate them to probation if they've taken all steps possible to mitigate their violation.
What can I do if I am accused of violating my probation?
In the event of a violation of probation warrant you have two choices:
- Wait for the warrant to be served (either by the “warrant squad” or by happenstance, like a traffic stop or at a border
- Arrange to “surrender” in Court.
Either alternative will result in your incarceration, but only in the latter event will it occur on your terms. As almost all VOP warrants have a “no bond” hold self-surrendering almost always has the side benefit of permitting you to argue to the court that, notwithstanding the allegations in affidavit, you are an otherwise responsible probationer who respects the Court’s authority, and this could be very well be the difference maker in securing a probation bond or not. If you have any idea (much less know) that a warrant may be (will be) issued then you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, have her/him contact your PO and get working on your behalf.
What if I still owe money (restitution or court or probation costs)?
There is no such thing as a “debtor’s prison” in Florida. If monetary conditions are all that are outstanding then the State can try to violate you, but in order for the Judge to do so, he/she will first have to determine that you “willfully and substantially” failed to comply with the terms and conditions of your probation. “Willfulness” requires a degree of choice. You can be punished if you are found to have money and chose to spend it on other things than the Court Ordered obligations. However, if the State cannot prove that you made such a choice, then you cannot be jailed. If you are financially struggling, the Court can extend your probation, convert your balance to either a criminal order or community service hours or they can waive the costs/fees/fines and simply terminate your probation as the Court sees fit.
What is a “material and willful” violation of my probation?
A “material” violation of your probation is dependent upon the facts and circumstances of your case. On the other hand, “willful” probation is your choice, decision or intentional act. Your Probation Officer (PO) can allege whatever s/he wants as a violation, but the Judge must first lawfully find that you materially and willfully violated your probation before your probation can be revoked, and you can be sentenced.