Breaking Down Informal Probation in Florida
The key component of informal probation in the Sunshine State is deferred disposition. Quite simply, the judge “defers” the “disposition” of guilt until the defendant’s probation ends. Otherwise, informal probation is usually identical to standard probation, as outlined below. Probation began as a small, private jail alternative in the Northeast in the 1800s. Today, almost all offenders receive probation, even violent felons with criminal records.
Prosecutors don’t offer probation because they have generous hearts. They offer it because a Tampa probation & expungement attorney presents a plausible defense during pretrial negotiations, and this defense forces prosecutors to reassess their chances at trial. Usually, procedural and/or substantive defenses are available. Police officers often make mistakes during investigations and sometimes there’s not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Deferred Disposition Pros and Cons
If the opportunity is available, many defendants jump at the chance to obtain deferred disposition. Indeed, the potential benefits are significant. Informal record sealing is doubtless the biggest benefit.
If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge dismisses the case. As a result, the defendant has no criminal conviction record. The arrest record remains. If employers, landlords, or other people ask about the arrest record, a simple “I hired a Tampa criminal defense lawyer, and the lawyer took care of it” normally satisfies inquiring minds.
Now, for the biggest deferred disposition con. If the defendant violates probation, the state files a motion to revoke, and the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the judge could sentence the defendant to anything up to the maximum.
In a serious felony that could mean decades in prison, deferred disposition is obviously a huge risk. Additionally, the burden of proof (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is much lower in probation revocation matters. So, these cases are much easier to prove in court.
Usually, if the prosecutor offers deferred disposition, a Tampa criminal defense attorney honestly assesses the likelihood that the defendant can successfully complete probation. If the defendant has issues with authority, has a substance abuse problem, associates with disreputable people, or cannot keep appointments, a motion to revoke is almost inevitable.
Informal Probation Conditions
Florida law gives judges almost unlimited authority to impose conditions on probationers. Additionally, judges don’t have to warn defendants about standard conditions, such as:
- Report in person to a supervision officer as directed, usually monthly or bimonthly,
- Attend school and/or work full time,
- Remain current on any child support, spousal support, and other such obligations,
- Avoid further legal trouble,
- Remain in the county, and
- Avoid disreputable people or places.
Judges must warn defendants about offense-specific conditions, such as a keep-away order in a domestic battery case.
These orders are usually very restrictive. They often require the defendant to vacate a shared residence, even if the defendant pays the mortgage or rent. Other provisions include anger management classes, substance abuse counseling, and prohibitions on firearms ownership.
All these restrictive conditions highlight the need for post-conviction assistance, usually early probation termination or modification. Most judges consider terminating probation after the defendant pays all fines and serves about half the term. Florida law gives judges almost absolute authority to modify or reduce the conditions at any time, even the day after the defendant pleads guilty.
Rely on a Compassionate Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.