By: James Davis
The Basics of Probation
Probation is a legal status where a person is not incarcerated but must subject himself to close supervision by the state and by a probation officer. Generally, complying with probation involves maintaining a job, a residence, keeping all scheduled meetings with the probation officer, and avoiding any more run-ins with the law. A person who violates his or her probation may face extremely severe penalties for doing so.
There are two general types of probation violations: technical violations and substantive violations.
Technical violations are, as the name implies, “technicalities” of the conditions of probation that must be adhered to. These can be obvious things like missing or arriving late to a meeting with the probation officer. However, it can also include less-blatant items like failing to obtain permission before changing addresses or failing to obtain permission before travelling outside a prescribed geographic area.
Substantive violations involve the commission of new crimes. It is important to note that, even if the state dismisses the new criminal charges, or the case results in a not guilty verdict, the state may still use the new alleged offense as the basis for bringing a violation of probation (VOP) charge.
Violation of Probation Charges
When a probation officer makes a claim of VOP, the case goes before a judge. This case is very different from a regular criminal trial, and so it is crucial to have the help of a legal professional experienced in these cases to fight the charges. For example you have no right to demand a jury trial, the judge may require you to testify against yourself, and hearsay evidence is admissible against you. What’s more, the state does not have to prove its case by the high “reasonable doubt” standard. Instead, the standard at a VOP hearing is conduct which “shocks the conscious of the court.”
After determining that a violation occurred, the judge usually signs an arrest warrant, and that warrant may have a “no bond” provision in it. If this happens, the person on probation is arrested and placed in jail, and remains in jail until the court hears that case.
If you know that you will be facing VOP charges, it is important to continue to keep all your appointments with your probation officer. Failure to keep these meeting will only give the state additional grounds for their VOP claim, and may make the judge less open to giving you another chance to remain out on probation.
Once the case comes before the judge, you have three defenses: that you are innocent of the charges, that you are in full compliance with the terms of your probation or that the state lacks enough evidence to prove that your violation was willful and substantial. A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to help beat the charges and avoid the serious penalties that may come with a guilty verdict.
If the judge determines that you violated your probation, he or she can make one of three rulings, either: reinstating your probation, modifying your probation or revoking your probation. If the court decides to revoke your probation, it is important to keep in mind that the judge can sentence you to a prison sentence of as much as the statutory maximum for the crime for which you were originally placed on probation. The stakes are obviously high, and so strong legal defenses must be mounted.
Those facing VOP charges in our area should retain a knowledgeable Florida criminal attorney as soon as possible. Contact criminal defense attorney James Davis to understand more about your violation of probation and how he can help you.