PROBATION IN PALM BEACH COUNTY
Probation in Palm Beach County is monitored by Professional Probation Services (PPS) for misdemeanors, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) for felonies, and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for juvenile cases. It can be imposed by a judge as part of a sentence after a negotiated plea, a plea to the court, or a finding of guilt. The terms of probation can be as simple as monthly reporting and payment for the cost of supervision, or as burdensome as hundreds of community service hours, drug or mental health evaluations, offense-related classes, and payment of restitution. The length of probation is equally variable, ranging from one month to several years, depending on the offense.
When a defendant is sentenced to probation, he or she must typically meet with his or her probation officer (PO) within 24 hours of the court hearing. The initial meeting with probation involves the completion of intake forms, a review of the probationary terms and conditions, and instructions on how to execute those terms. After the first meeting, the defendant must complete the stated terms by established deadlines, refrain from committing any new law violations, and report to probation monthly.
In certain cases, if the defendant completes all the terms and conditions of probation ahead of the full probationary period, he or she may request early termination of probation. The decision to early terminate is entirely with the court; however, the prosecution may make a recommendation one way or the other.
The likelihood of early termination is determined in part by the original plea agreement. If the plea agreement specifically allowed early termination after a certain time (i.e. 12 months probation with early termination after 6 months), a judge would be more inclined to grant the request. Conversely, plea agreements that specifically prohibit early termination will probably prevent the requestor from getting out of probation sooner than the allotted time. This is because the courts generally honor plea agreements between the state and defense. In cases where the plea agreement is silent on the issue of early termination, a judge will make a decision based on all of the relevant facts, including any mitigating or aggravating circumstances about the underlying case and the defendant’s subsequent showing of remorse and rehabilitation.
Violation of Probation
Things can go downhill quickly if the PO believes the probationer has failed to follow conditions of probation. The PO has the ultimate discretion in the decision to file a violation of probation (think soccer referee holding out a penalty card). If the PO files a violation, he or she does so by completing an affidavit of Violation of Probation, specifically enumerating the alleged violations. Upon submitting the Affidavit of Violation to the Court, the PO can recommend initiating the VOP by warrant for arrest or Notice to Appear. (Naturally, if a VOP is going to happen, the latter form of notice is preferable.) The accused probationer is then subjected to court hearings regarding the alleged violations and must ultimately decide whether to correct the violation (if possible), fight the violation, or plead guilty to the violation.
If the probationer chooses to fight the alleged violation, he or she can do so at a VOP trial, often called Final VOP hearing. Like a regular criminal case, a final VOP hearing involves the presentation of testimony and evidence, with each side having the opportunity to present their case. The burden of proof falls on the government and accused is afforded the presumption of innocence. However, the main differences between a VOP trial and a trial for a regular criminal case are that (1) there is no jury – the judge makes the determination of guilt or no guilt; and (2) the level of proof required is a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. The latter makes it easier for the State to prove its case, as preponderance of the evidence simply means “more likely than not” and is a much lower standard than BRD.
At the conclusion of the VOP case, the best case scenario is entirely avoiding liability, and the worst case scenario is the maximum sentence for the underlying offense. Depending on the outcome of the VOP and the length of time the defendant has been on probation, the defendant may be reinstated on probation or terminated from the program.
Modifications of Probation
A smart way to avoid a violation of probation is to request a modification of a condition if not feasible for the defendant. Motions to modify probation can address travel arrangements, out-of-county employment, waivers or alternatives for specific conditions (such as vehicle immobilization and ignition interlock for DUIs), and more.
Although certain terms of probation cannot be modified by law, the court has discretion to modify terms that are not mandated by statute. The defendant seeking modification should present relevant documentation and information at a hearing and then make a compelling argument about the requested change. As might be expected, the assistance of a criminal defense attorney is beneficial in filing and arguing a Motion to Modify Probation due to the attorney’s knowledge and experience in criminal law and procedure.
Our Criminal Defense Law Firm is Experienced in Modifying Probation and Fighting VOPs
Whether you are proactively handling a probationary issue or are facing a violation of probation charge, Casanova Law is here to help you. Our Palm Beach County criminal defense firm litigates probation cases daily and understands our local criminal justice system. We can contact the prosecution and probation officer, conduct court hearings, identify and gather mitigating documents, and advise you as to the best course of action.
Contact Casanova Law today for representation in probation modifications and alleged violations.