Violations of probation or VOPs in Pinellas County are dealt with harshly by the courts. The mentality of the judges in Pinellas County is that a defendant was given a chance to avoid jail or prison and there are seldom second chances given. If you are about to be violated, have received a notice to appear for a violation, or were arrested on a VOP, your best chance is to hire a criminal defense lawyer to minimize the consequences. This rule applies even if you had a Public Defender on the underlying charge.
Over the last couple of years, Pinellas County has had a crackdown on felony VOP charges. For many years, a specific division had been created to deal specifically with VOPs called Division Q. This division only dealt with technical VOPs (meaning those without new felony charges). Division Q was known for giving offenders numerous chances to get the probation sentence completed. But, due to budgetary constraints, that division was eliminated and all of the VOPs are now handled in front of the original judge who sentenced you. That means that it is more likely that the judge will remember you and your case and that you will be punished accordingly. The era of getting breaks and second chances in Pinellas County is over.
Now, the above only applies to felony VOPs. There is still a specifically designated division for misdemeanors as of the date of this article called Division O. This division is more focused on rehabilitation, payment of fines and completion of conditions rather than incarceration. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor VOP, it is also more likely that you will avoid jail and be given more time to complete the original conditions of your sentence.
Violation of Probation Lawyer in St. Petersburg
At St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I have been handling Pinellas County VOP cases for over 20 years. I specialize in Pinellas County cases so that I am familiar with the judges and the prosecutors. I am aware of the preferences, the policies and procedures that are unique to Pinellas County cases. While there are quality defense lawyers in other counties, there simply is no comparison to being familiar with the court system your client or case is assigned to. If you have questions about a VOP in Pinellas County, I encourage you or a family member to contact me for a consultation.
What is a Violation of Probation?
Violations of probation are controlled by Florida Statute Chapter 948. A violation of probation occurs when a defendant is alleged to have substantially and willfully violated the terms of his or her probation. The process for a VOP is much different from a normal criminal charge. In fact, the burden to find you in violation, is the same as in a civil court, not beyond a reasonable doubt. A prosecutor only needs to prove by the greater weight of the evidence that you willfully and substantially violated the terms of your probation. Additionally, unlike in a criminal charge, hearsay is allowed. This lower standard and more lax rules make it quite simple for VOPs to be proven.
Who Supervises Pinellas County Probation Cases?
If you have been sentenced on the third floor (county court) of the Criminal Justice Center and are on probation for a misdemeanor, your probation will be supervised by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. If you have been sentenced for a felony or even a misdemeanor on the fourth floor (circuit court) of the Criminal Justice Center, your probation will be supervised by the Florida Department of Corrections.
How are VOPs Started in Pinellas County?
There are three general ways that your violation may be initiated in Pinellas County. If you are on probation for a misdemeanor or have a minor violation of your felony probation, you may be lucky enough to receive a Notice to Appear. While you are still charged with a VOP, the benefit is that you avoid being arrested for it.
The second way to have a VOP initiated is to be arrested by your probation officer or by a police officer. Criminal defense attorneys call these COP VOPs because they are based on probable cause. While unlikely, it is possible to get a bond on a COP VOP, at least until your judge has reviewed the VOP affidavit from your probation officer.
Lastly, most VOPs are begun by your PO submitting an affidavit to the judge stating the reasons why he or she believes that you have violated your probation. Once the judge reviews the affidavit, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Most VOPs that begin in this manner carry no bond. This means that you will need to stay in the Pinellas County Jail until the judge who issued the warrant reviews the case. It is the general rule in Pinellas County that only the judge who issued the warrant will change the terms of the warrant. The judges at the Criminal Justice Center will normally not get involved in the bond decisions that another judge has already made. So, if you get picked up on a warrant with no bond, expect to be in custody for a while or until you have a court date back in front of your judge.
Common Types of Violations of Probation:
While there are numerous ways that a defendant can be accused of violating probation, most are for New Offenses or New Criminal Charges, Positive Drug Tests, Failure to Complete Drug/Alcohol Counseling or Treatment, and Failure to Pay Financial Obligations. Obviously, not all violations are created equally, so this leaves some room for a Pinellas County Violation of Probation Lawyer to maneuver for you.
Penalties for Violating Probation
If you are found in a willful violation, the court may impose any sentence that it might have originally imposed in the underlying case. While rare, this means that you could even get the maximum jail or prison sentence allowed by law. In every case, the probation officer will make a recommendation to the judge about what the sentence or punishment should be. This recommendation is included within the report or VOP affidavit that is provided to the court. As you may expect, probation officers (especially DOC officers) can be short-tempered, impatient and very harsh. Their recommendations to the court are usually that a defender is sentenced in accordance with the criminal punishment code, meaning the defendant should go to prison. DOC officers usually have little discretion about their recommendations. On the contrary, misdemeanor probation officers are usually less harsh and simply want to see you get your sentence completed.
Contact a Pinellas County Criminal Defense Attorney for VOPs
The judges and prosecutors in Pinellas County are much more conservative than in other counties throughout Florida. VOP cases can be tough and there is little tolerance for defendants who make mistakes. The judges at the Criminal Justice Center do not have much patience for defendants who do not fall into line. I have personally seen many defendants who claim that there was a false positive urine test to make a mess of their case when a simple apology and pledge to not make another mistake would have sufficed.
For many of my VOP cases, I urge clients to take all steps possible to complete the original terms and conditions of probation. Obviously, if someone is incarcerated in the Pinellas County jail, that makes that task much more difficult. In these situations, I often ask friends or family members for assistance to pay off any outstanding financial conditions. In cases of failed drug screens or failure to complete counseling, I advise clients to get clean immediately and voluntarily provide negative drug tests to the court. In other words, anything you can do to convince the judge that you are worthy of another chance, you should be doing.
Additionally, if I am retained quickly enough, it is possible to set a court date in front of the judge who issued the warrant on a Motion to Surrender and/or Motion to Set Bond. Judges like it when defendants have good lawyers and come to the court voluntarily to accept responsibility. In some circumstances, it is possible that the judge will reconsider the bond that he or she issued.
If you are a loved one expects to be violated, has received a notice to appear, or has been arrested for a VOP, I strongly advise that you speak to a Pinellas County violation of probation defense attorney as soon as possible. The penalties for VOPs can be more discretionary than you might think and being well represented and prepared can drastically improve your chances at the leniency.