When someone is convicted of a crime in the state of Florida, depending on that crime’s severity and the offender’s previous criminal history, the offender may be ordered to prison or placed on probation. Those ordered to prison are then sometimes released on parole. Florida’s probation and parole officers work with offenders serving probation or parole to make sure that they remain crime-free and drug-free.
Florida’s probation officers (the state prefers to call them “community corrections officers”) meet regularly with probationers and administer drug tests routinely. The state’s parole officers likewise monitor parolees. Parole and probation officers meet the people they supervise in their offices or at the parolee’s or probationer’s home or place of work. Regular, monthly or even weekly contact helps to ensure that the terms of probation or parole are not violated.
Offenders who are on parole or probation must adhere to drug testing guidelines established by the state. Drug tests are almost always ordered by Florida courts as a condition of parole or probation. According to West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Rick Hutchinson, “Although 80% of crimes are driven by some form of addiction, sometimes drug testing is simply a condition of probation, especially if there is any indication of drug or alcohol involvement.”
An offender placed under supervision by the court or released on parole by the Florida Commission on Offender Review must abide by the “conditions of supervision.” An intentional violation of those conditions, either by committing another crime or violating another condition of supervision, may lead to the revocation of probation or parole and the incarceration of the offender.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE ON PROBATION IN FLORIDA?
In June of 2015 – the most recent figures available – probation officers in Florida were supervising 139,833 probationers. Probationers pay the state of Florida for the costs of their supervision, and they may additionally be required to pay restitution to victims as well as court costs and other fees and fines. Some persons on probation will be ordered to perform public service designed to help community organizations and give the offender – at least symbolically – a way to pay back his or her community.
Drug Offender Probation is a more comprehensive and fully-supervised type of probation that may include mandatory drug treatment and random drug testing. Offenders on Drug Offender Probation must adhere to the usual conditions of supervision along with whatever additional conditions the court deems necessary due to the offender’s history and circumstances. Probation and parole officers have the power to arrest the offenders they supervise. Probation and parole officers also share information with other law enforcement officers and agencies, and most of the officers are certified to carry – and do carry – a firearm for protection.
The Florida Department of Corrections manages and conducts one of the largest statewide drug testing programs in the United States. The department uses several methods to detect drug use by an offender. On-site urinalysis and alcohol testing can be and often is conducted in the probation office. On-site testing is a particularly effective tool because the results are available instantly, allowing a probation officer to address a substance abuse violation or concern immediately.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A SUPERVISED OFFENDER FAILS A DRUG TEST?
If you are sentenced to probation, take it seriously. The state of Florida does, and you do not want to be charged with a violation of probation (VOP). What happens if someone on probation in Florida fails a random drug test? When a probation officer receives a positive drug test, the state may launch a VOP proceeding. Anyone accused of a VOP in south Florida will need the help of an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney. Sometimes, a warrant for the probationer’s arrest can be filed as soon as the next day.
Once a defendant is deemed to have violated probation, his or her supervising officer will submit to the court an Affidavit of Violation, a sworn statement explaining why the officer believes the supervised offender committed a violation. Upon receiving the affidavit, the court will review the allegation from the officer, determine if reasonable grounds exist, and if so, issue a warrant for the probationer’s arrest. The probationer will then be arraigned on the violation charge and a date for a hearing will be set.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A VIOLATION OF PROBATION IN FLORIDA?
To establish a violation of probation, the state must meet a minimum standard of proof – proving the violation with what the law calls “competent evidence” – but the state is not required to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” since a probationer has been convicted of the underlying original crime in a proceeding that presumably proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt already. Still, the state must show that the alleged violation of probation was both intentional and substantive, and that must be determined on a case-by-case basis. In Florida, almost all violations of probation happen for only one of five reasons:
- a failed drug test
- a new criminal offense and arrest
- a failure to meet a court-ordered financial obligation
- a failure to complete a court-ordered treatment, counseling, or rehabilitation program
- missing appointments with the probation officer
Failed drug tests constitute a substantial percentage of the felony probation violations in Florida. In these cases, the state has the burden of proving that an illegal drug was present in a defendant’s body. The law says such proof “must be reliable and based on the observations of a witness with experience and training.” In practice, this means that a probation officer’s testimony alone is insufficient to convict a probationer of a VOP for a failed drug test.
The failure to complete a drug treatment program – if it’s ordered by the court as a condition of supervision – is also a violation of probation, but even in this scenario, to convict a probationer of VOP, the law requires that “some evidence must be submitted to show that the defendant was in some manner responsible for such failure.” In such cases, an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney may be able to help a probationer accused of VOP avoid the worst potential consequence – jail or prison after a revocation of probation.
Community supervision through parole and probation is a core component of Florida’s criminal justice system. It reduces recidivism and holds offenders in this state accountable for compensating their victims. For most probationers and parolees, holding a job is one of the conditions of supervision, so these supervised offenders pay taxes instead of burdening Florida’s taxpayers with the cost of their incarceration. Additionally, supervised offenders perform more than a million hours of public service work every year for Florida’s community and non-profit organizations.