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Probation is always preferable to jail, but the key to successful probation is to avoid violating it. And that means knowing what kinds of conduct rise to the level of violations.

In Florida, such conduct can include refusing to pay fines ordered by the court; traveling or meeting with certain people without first seeking permission from your officer; possessing, using or selling illegal drugs; getting arrested for any reason; missing appointments with your probation officer or missing a court appearance.

Your probation officer may merely issue you a warning but could require you to appear in court on a Violation of Probation charge. If that happens, it is important to treat the case as seriously and defend it as vigorously as any other criminal charge, which includes retaining a skilled lawyer immediately.

Just because your probation officer says you violated the terms of your probation doesn’t mean the charge will be held up in court. The state must prove that you willfully and substantially violated the terms of your probation. The judge will hear from your probation officer and you as to what exactly happened and will consider your criminal history and the seriousness of your violation.

So if you missed one appointment but gave a reasonable explanation, a judge likely would not consider that either substantial or willful. But missing several appointments would suggest deliberate avoidance, which is much more likely to be considered a violation. Likewise, an arrest alone is not considered a violation, but if you are convicted, it is a serious one.

A capable lawyer may be able to challenge other charges, including positive drug test results, which have been thrown out when the expertise of those administrating drug tests is called into doubt. As in other criminal cases, hearsay generally is not admissible, so a records custodian testifying that you failed a test may be excludable evidence.

Though there are defenses, a Violation of Probation charge is extremely serious and shouldn’t be treated lightly. If a court finds that you violated your probation, the maximum penalty for your original offense could mean going from probation to prison. Other potential consequences are wide ranging, from a warning or an additional fine to new criminal charges or an extension of your probationary period.

If you have been accused of violating probation, immediately contact an experienced lawyer who may be able to contest the charge or minimize penalties.

Alan Fowler and his law firm, Key West Criminal Defense, are a team of attorneys and paralegals who have successful defended clients in a range of criminal cases in Key West, the Florida Keys, and Monroe County, Florida. Call (305) 417-9378 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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