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Blogs from June, 2024

The Standard of Proof Required at a Probation Violation Hearing

Criminal Convictions vs. Probation Violations

When you're initially charged with a crime, the state attorney must prove your guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" to secure a conviction. This is the highest standard of proof in the legal system.

If you're accused of a probation violation, the burden of proof that the state must meet is significantly lower. In these cases, the standard is "by a preponderance of evidence."

This means that the state must show that it is more likely than not that you violated your probation.

How Are Probation Violations Reported?

If your probation officer believes you've violated a term of your probation, they will submit an affidavit of violation to the court. This document outlines the specific ways you've allegedly failed to comply with your probation conditions.

Violations can be either "material" or "technical:"

  • Material Violation: This involves new criminal activity, such as being arrested for a new felony or misdemeanor.
  • Technical Violation: These are less severe and can include failing to appear at a scheduled court hearing or meeting, not paying required fines or fees, or failing a drug test.

After receiving the affidavit, the court will review it to determine if there are reasonable grounds for the accusations. If the court finds sufficient grounds, it will issue either a warrant for your arrest or a notice to appear in court.

What Does "A Preponderance of Evidence" Mean?

The "preponderance of evidence" standard fundamentally requires that the evidence presented by the state demonstrates that it is more likely than not that the accused violated the terms of their probation. In contrast to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, which requires near certainty, "a preponderance of evidence" only needs to tip the scales slightly in favor of one side.

Examples of how the State Attorney may be able to meet this standard of proof in three different situations are as follows:

  1. Missed Meeting with Probation Officer: If a probation officer testifies that the accused missed a scheduled meeting and provides attendance records as evidence, this could meet the preponderance of evidence standard. If there is no substantial rebuttal from the defense, the court may find it more likely than not that the probationer willfully and substantially violated the terms.
  2. Positive Drug Test: Suppose the probationer fails a mandatory drug test, and the results are presented in court. If the lab results are credible and unchallenged, they may constitute sufficient evidence to show it's more likely than not that the probationer used prohibited substances.
  3. New Arrest: If a probationer is arrested and charged with a new crime, the arresting officer's testimony and arrest report could be used as evidence. Even without a conviction for the new charge, the arrest and supporting testimonies might be enough to fulfill the preponderance of evidence standard.

Understanding this lower threshold makes it clear why violations don't require extensive evidence to the same stringent level as the initial criminal charges did. It can also help you better prepare for your violation of probation (VOP) hearing.

Potential Consequences of a Probation Violation Conviction in Florida

If you are convicted of a probation violation in Florida, the consequences can be severe and varied depending on the nature and seriousness of the violation. The judge has broad discretion in determining the appropriate penalty, ranging from a warning to more stringent legal repercussions.

Potential outcomes may include:

  • Modification of probation terms
  • Extension of probation
  • Revocation of probation and imprisonment
  • Reinstatement of a suspended sentence

Even if you know yourself to be innocent, you are strongly encouraged to seek legal representation during a probation violation hearing. Remember, the state has a lower burden of proof than initial criminal convictions, but they must still present competent evidence to support their claims.

If you face probation violation accusations, don't leave your future to chance; contact Mazin Law for help today.