How does probation work in Florida?

Probation is a common alternative punishment to imprisonment. In March 2017, there were over 136,000 people serving probation time in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC).

Probation works by allowing defendants to retain many of their freedoms, as long as they meet strict conditions mandated by the court. Probation involves court-ordered formal supervision, with stringent terms, for a given length of time.  Violating the terms of your probation can result in additional charges and penalties.

Find out if you might be eligible for probation in lieu of jail time. Call Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900 and speak to our defense lawyers, free of charge.

What types of probation exist in Florida?

Either the circuit court (felony probation) or county court (misdemeanor probation) will handle your probation. Other than jurisdiction, there is little difference between felony and misdemeanor probation. There are several types of probation in Florida that the courts may sentence you with:

  • Standard Probation: During standard probation, you follow the basic standards of probation and report regularly to your probation officer.
  • Administrative Probation: Administrative or “non-reporting” probation is similar to standard probation, with the exception that you do not need to meet with your probation officer.
  • Drug Offender Probation: 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 Probation: Those sentenced to sex offender probation must stick to a treatment program and will be under the supervision of a surveillance officer.
  • Community Control: Synonymous with “house arrest,” community control is the most stringent type of probation because you are under constant supervised custody.

We can help you differentiate between the different types of probation and work to convince the judge to sentence you to the specific type that will work best for you. 

What is the difference between parole and probation?

Parole and probation are often confused, but are distinct in nature:

Parole: Parole is the early release of an inmate who has successfully satisfied the conditions and terms of his release agreement. When an inmate is “paroled,” the state releases him from any remaining time on his jail sentence. It is an act of grace of the state, not a right.

NOTE: Legislative changes in 1983 effectively abolished parole for offenders sentenced for crimes committed on or after October 1, 1983.  If you were convicted of committing a crime after that date in Florida, you will not be eligible for parole.

Probation: Probation on the other hand, is an alternative to incarceration, not an early release from it. 

When can the judge order probation rather than jail time?

Essentially, it is up to the court to decide whether to sentence a defendant to probation or jail time. Some defendants, such as those with repeated, serious violent felonies will not qualify.

Florida Statute § 948.011 provides: “When the law authorizes the placing of a defendant on probation, and when the defendant’s offense is punishable by both fine and imprisonment, the trial court may, in its discretion, impose a fine upon him or her and place him or her on probation or into community control as an alternative to imprisonment.” (emphasis ours)

What can I expect while on probation?

According to DOC statistics, the average probation sentence is 4.2 years in Florida, including life sentences. While probation is certainly preferable over incarceration, it is no cakewalk by any means. It can be quite challenging to meet the terms of your probation. It requires time, money, and patience.

You will need a flexible work schedule and must use free time for any required classes, community service, and court appearances, not to mention for your regular meetings with your probation officer. Plus, there are various fines and fees and possible restitution payments to take care of, so you will need to carefully budget your money. And strict compliance and completion of all the terms of your probation is mandatory.

What are the terms of probation?

The judge will set the specific terms of probation. Every defendant on probation must abide by the standard terms and conditions, listed in Fl. St. § 948.03(1). They include:

  • Reporting to your probation officer as directed
  • Consenting to home visits
  • Working at suitable employment
  • Remaining within a specified place
  • Not breaking any laws
  • Making restitution
  • Supporting your dependents
  • Any other reasonable conditions the judge orders

We will go over the terms of your probation with you to ensure you understand what the court expects of you. We will also work to minimize the conditions of your probation. We may even suggest you complete the conditions prior to going to court, allowing us to make the argument that there is no reason to place you on probation since you already completed anger management or other conditions.

What if I violate the terms of my probation?

If you violate any of the material terms of your probation, your probation officer can either arrest you on the spot or give an affidavit to the judge who will then issue a warrant for your arrest. Violations of probation (VOP) are serious offenses for which judges might not set bond. In other words, if you violate your probation, the chances are fairly high that you will spend some time behind bars.

If you have been arrested for a VOP or believe officers are coming with a warrant to arrest you, call our office straightaway. We can contact your probation officer on your behalf, explain the situation, and hopefully get your probation officer to agree to drop the case.

VOP hearings are different than many other types of cases because you lose your right to a jury, you are not entitled to bond out, and the rules of evidence the state must have against you are much lower. You are only entitled to a hearing before a judge. If the judge determines that you willfully violated your probation, she will revoke your probation and sentence you appropriately, e.g., incarceration.

When you enlist our help, we will begin building your case to convince the judge that you did not willfully violate your probation (e.g., you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time). And if you were in violation of your probation and no defense to your violation exists, we may argue the reasons the judge should reinstate your probation. We may suggest you take proactive steps; for example, if you failed a drug test, we may show up to the VOP hearing with a clean urinalysis screening and have you go to AA/NA meetings or other counseling.

Speak to our defense attorneys about your case – for FREE.

For a free consultation with qualified criminal defense lawyers in St. Petersburg, contact Goldman Wetzel. We represent people charged with all types of misdemeanor and criminal offense, in both county and circuit courts. We can answer any probation-related questions you may have, as well as provide legal counsel and representation.

The initial consultation is free. Call us at 727-828-3900 to arrange for a meeting with attorneys Goldman and Wetzel.